Summertime means reading in the sun with a glass of something refreshingly cold at your side. Hurrah? Not always. I find it increasingly difficult to find a satisfying read amidst the sea of superficial stories that do nothing to contribute to my reflection. The challenge is invigorating as I scour bookshelf after bookshelf for fiction that is at the same entertaining, well-written, and deep. It sounds like there are not many of those books out there, but with the rise of independent publishing, it is getting easier and easier to find such books.
What am I looking for exactly? My main concern in life is my contribution to the spiritual and material development of my own self and, most importantly, of my community. There are many topics that I try to constantly read about to refine said contribution. One of them is marriage; as a fundamental building block of society that helps order the community, it needs to be strong. Marriage starts way before we meet that special someone; furthermore, we don’t have to be married to contribute to the strengthening of other marriages; fiction reflects the predominant beliefs about marriage, some of which are good, some of which need to change.
With this in mind, I try to pick up fiction that features marriage in its many forms: before meeting that special someone, during the period of courtship, while engaged, the wedding, the marriage itself, and, at times, the divorce. My purpose is both to increase my understanding of marriage as an individual, but also, to understand how a writer can contribute to the conversation about marriage: what is a healthy marriage? What does it look like? What is a healthy romance that can lead to this healthy marriage? Ad nauseum. While Disney Princesses, many romantic comedies, and many romance books warp our perception of romance into an unhealthy, superficial one, some movies, television shows, and book do convey light hearted romances that also elevate the conversation.
Honeymoon Hotel happens to be just that. Author Hester Browne brought to life a beautiful, old-fashioned hotel where Rosie, an events manager, works. A big chunk of the events she plans are weddings, through which she has gained a reputation for putting together the most romantic, polished weddings. But her personal romance is anything but polished, and when newcomer Joe challenges the way Rosie runs weddings at the hotel, she finds herself also challenged to reconsider some of her personal beliefs about marriage itself.
Browne is a wonderful storyteller. The Bonneville Hotel come to life and vividly so, its description expertly weaved through a story I couldn’t stop reading. While the ending was obvious pretty much from the beginning, it truly is the journey that makes the book worth reading. It follows the stereotypical formula of boy meets girl; chemistry flares; drama ensues; when things look like they can’t get worse, they do; boy and girl realise they can’t live without each other; they live happily ever after. But at the same time, Browne delves into this formula to bring out some interesting points of reflection. And because she does not provide answers, only questions, Honeymoon Hotel doesn’t ever swerve into patronizing territory.
This book features, at the end, questions for use in a book club setting, where I think this book would do really well. One of the questions that can be discussed is that of a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship. The book’s two main characters are professional, beautiful, smart, successful women who are both caught in unhealthy relationships. Not only that, but these women either make excuses for their partner’s bad behaviour, or don’t see the behaviour as bad in the first place. This of course is not only a question worth asking in the context of a romantic relationship, but also in the context of any relationship.
Honeymoon Hotel is the first Hester Browne book I have read, but certainly not the last one. It makes for an enjoyable and relaxing read which generates some great reflections on topics such as relationships, romance, and marriage. It’s also a great book to read with other friends before embarking on a road trip, ensuring that the music level will be down and the conversation level, up.