[Note: I’m traveling today, so here’s a repeat review of a favorite!]
Do you know a writer? They need this book.
And while you’re at it, you may as well get yourself a copy too. Whether you’re a margin scribbler, page corner dog-ear-turner, or even spine cracker—for which, BTW, you belong in hell—there’s no way you’ll be able to pass The Night Porter off as a pristine new gift copy once you’ve combed through it. Nor, for that matter, will you be willing to give it up.
The Night Porter is set in a hotel, in November, in the fictional town of Wheatley Fields, (based on Southwell, near Nottinghamshire, deep in Sherwood Forest). It takes place over two weeks, underneath steel grey clouds and icy rain. Four writers, all nominated for an upcoming awards ceremony, come to stay. One mega successful romance author, a top US thriller writer who sells in seven figures, a beautiful young YA tyro on the brink of world wide stardom… …and a degenerate, nasty, bitter, jealous, trollish, drunken (but brilliant), self-published contemporary fiction author. The eponymous, pseudonymous and anonymous Night Porter is instructed by a secretive and powerful awards committee to look after their EVERY need, to ensure they make it through the two weeks to attend the ceremony. At the same time as keeping an eye on their wishes, antics, fights, relationships and never-ending ego explosions. And trying desperately to avoid getting involved himself. It’s a comedy drama about writers (and Night Porters!) with twists and turns, nooks and crannies, shadows and mirrors, alongside some of my bizarre preoccupations and obsessions. It casts a sometimes shadowy light on modern publishing, the writing business – and the people in it. Writers who like to read about writers and writing will enjoy the book.
One man to keep it under control…
- Book Title: The Night Porter
- Author: Mark Barry
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 268 pages
Release Date: March 24, 2014
Purchase Links: Amazon UK| Amazon US
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars for THE NIGHT PORTER by Mark Barry
Face it: we all love to see ourselves. Artists paint pictures of other artists, or paint themselves into other art. (Really, da Vinci? The Mona Lisa?) Hollywood loves to make movies about people making movies. And if a story ever comes up about a journalist, the guys on the six-o’clock news practically wet themselves covering it from every possible angle.
So, as a writer, when I heard that Mark Barry’s The Night Porter was about the run-up to a Booker-like literary awards ceremony, I added it to my TBR (to be read) list. I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction so I wasn’t in any hurry. That was until I received a review copy through #RBRT, Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team. Less than a chapter in, I was laughing out loud, scaring my husband and the dog by yelling, “Hell, yeah!” (a lot), giving up cooking (you can so live on cereal and caffeine), plus abandoning personal hygiene (mostly), sleep (overrated), and all human contact (still walked the dog, of course) until I finished it.
I usually do reviews from digital copies. As I read, I try to highlight or add one or two comments. But Mark sent me an actual physical book. Okay, no problem. An old desk set gift included a package of those little paper sticky tabs, so I decided to use them to mark one or two of the best places. There are a few pages without sticky tabs. Not many, though. It’s just that good.
From the moment we meet the Night Porter at the luxury Saladin Inn, it’s clear that he’s abandoned anything which doesn’t fit in his carefully crafted persona. “I am a night porter. I am the night porter.” Because the person he’s invented only exists in one environment, the rest of his life is as bare as possible. He hasn’t had sex in six years. His apartment isn’t a home, but just a place to sleep. “My flat doesn’t have a single extraneous decorative object anywhere in sight. My bathroom is a Bauhaus example of pure Germanic functionalism.”
He may pretend that he doesn’t see the hotel as an extension of himself, but by page 8 he acknowledges the truth as he introduces readers to Cat, the hotel’s general manager. “She’s quite nice, for the profession. It’s just that she likes to think of herself as the ultimate professional, and so do I, so it’s not good for the two of us to occupy the same space. It defies immutable laws of physics.” Cat informs the Night Porter that the hotel has been fortunate to host four of the finalists in the upcoming mega-million dollar Arkwright Literary Fiction Award—romance novelist Amy Cook, YA fantasy writer Jo Marron-Saint, thriller writer Frank Duke, and self-published indie writer Julian Green. Julian’s is the bitter, probably alcoholic voice of truth, whose caustic judgmental derision can’t hide the fact that the other three have achieved commercial success that will probably never be his.
As the bemused Night Porter unwillingly becomes part of the lives of the hotel’s literary guests, he finds himself unravelling the mysteries of their connections, both to each other and to their individual writing. When those personal interactions explode into violence, the Night Porter’s involvement in the lives of his literary guests threatens his view of his job, himself, and his world. As a reader, I cared. By then, these complex three-dimensional characters were living and breathing people and writers. I wanted each of them to win their award, achieve success, and find happiness.
Figuring out the actual who-done-it, however, is almost irrelevant because Mark Barry is a genius. Through his merciless and loving evisceration of each genre, we know these writers. Even more, we know their world. In the long and often hilarious footnotes, we see lists of contestants and books that are a microcosm of publishing. There are inside writing jokes. For example, the luxuriously published and elegantly displayed case of previous contest winners displayed in the hotel lobby contains titles that we know by familiar—but indie—writers (right, Terry Tyler?).
So do you have to be a writer to love The Night Porter? Well, they say everyone has at least one book in them, and that potentially makes us all writers. But this goes beyond the act of setting down words—which most writers admit is the easy part—to dwell with loving viciousness on the industry of publishing. Of course, there are the indie problems, as self-publishing Julian explains to the Night Porter. When it only takes the click of a mouse to publish, everybody publishes books. But there is also the publishing paradox: readers want stories they already know in genre’s they’re familiar with. So both traditional and self-publishing gives them what they want, and closes ranks against anything else.
With the fact echoing in readers’ heads that The Night Porter is itself a literary fiction novel written by an indie author, it’s amusing to hear romance novelist Amy explain the fundamental insecurity of self-published writers like Julian.
“— the Ritual,” she interrupted. “He’s not been through it, and it kills him. He has a fear of rejection. He’s scared. The Ritual cures you of that. You see, I know. I’m an author. I have no insecurities because my work has been examined and judged. Not just by readers, but by professionals. It has survived the slush pile. It has been laughed at, rejected, beaten, shunned — and this is by friends. It has survived editors. Some of whom are more vicious than Julian will ever be. That isn’t because of inherent insecurity, that’s because they are bad; plain, ordinary, bad people.”
But Barry knows that’s too easy. He writes, and writes incredibly well. And he self-publishes. Why?
It’s about people. It’s about reading. It’s about the joy of books.
It’s about love.
Mark Barry shares that love with us in this impeccably crafted, funny, fast-paced novel. He loves writing and he loves these characters, and we do too. By the end, everyone might not get what they have coming to them, but they get what they deserve. Mark Barry deserves five out of five stars. We deserve more Mark Barry books.
And your writer friends? They definitely deserve a copy of The Night Porter.
Contact Links for Mark Barry
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*