The Night Porter is a modern contemporary piece of art. November, England and the prestigious Arkwright Book Awards are just around the corner. A golden award for Best Writer is the ultimate prize along with it’s cash reward, and receiving an “Alf” is the book equivalent of the Grammys.
Organisers of the ceremony have taken over all the local hotels and this story is based around 4 authors they have booked into The Saladin Inn. During their stay nothing is too much, their every whim must be catered for and everything is paid for by the Arkwright group.
Amy is a best selling romance novelist, Frank a thriller writer, Jo a YA/NA fiction writer and Julian the outsider, a self-published e-book writer of contemporary fiction. Each with their own characteristics, it’s Julian who causes trouble. He is argumentative and rants about the other authors. Amy says he has a chip on his shoulder because he hasn’t been through and survived the ritual of selection that traditionally “published” authors have gone through.
The story is told by The Night Porter of the Saladin, the one who listens late at night to those wanting to talk, he tends to their late night needs and is professional to the end. He’s there when a shocking event occurs and he’s there at the final awards as a guest.
There are plenty of twists and turns and the musings of the Night Porter in detailed foot notes to the text make an extra layer to the book. (footnotes are only in the paperback version)
For my own personal reading experience the footnotes were a distraction and slowed down my read, but I can see them being entertaining, you almost need to read the book twice, once without the footnotes and then with, to get the most from the book. They are a clever style which puts Mark Barry “out there” as an artistic writer.
Barb chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry
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.
One prestigious awards ceremony. Eight hundred years worth of hotel. Four authors. Two weeks. Six million dollars.
One man to keep it under control…
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.
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 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.
E.L chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry
My only concern with Mark Barry’s wickedly clever book, The Night Porter, is that I may not be able to fully do it justice in my review. It really is a joy to read and a novel that operates on many different levels.
Superficially it can be enjoyed as an observational take on life in a high-end hotel, as narrated to us by the night porter. It focuses in particular on a short period of time leading up to the Arkwright literary awards, in which the hotel will play a pivotal role, not least because it will become temporary home to four of the writers. The novel develops into something of a mystery as one of the writers is attacked in his room and left for dead.
Barry’s tour de force is about so much more than this though. Throughout the novel, Barry skilfully affords us a playful metaphorical nod to the art of writing and never lets us forget that he is in fact constructing a story. He deftly raises the question of what it means to be a writer and whether one form of writing is any more valid than another. Barry uses the character of Julian Green, an acclaimed indie writer who despises the more commercial writers, to represent the ‘literary’ school of writing. There is the constant reference to the “paradox” within writing, whereby what is popular and successful is not necessarily ‘good literature’.
Barry’s exploration of writing as a craft is made even more effective by his own brave experimentation with the novel form. Julian makes the comment that, to be successful, “footnotes and fancy titles” should be avoided and yet, ironically, Barry makes excellent use of both these devices. They lend the novel both a dry sense of humour and, in the case of the footnotes, a deeper glimpse into the mind of the night porter.
The heart of the novel is of course the eponymous night porter. He is a complex and at times devious character, who captivates the reader with his gloriously prissy and yet sincere account of his life in the hotel. The night porter is a man defined by his job, hence his anonymous status, and in the beginning it would seem he is nothing without it. He subsumes his own identity to the needs of the job and we get the idea of him being like an iceberg, with only ten percent of who he is on show to the public. He seems to have no close friends outside of the hotel and reveals that he has been celibate for six years.
The night porter prides himself on his isolationist stance as a “lone wolf” but, as he becomes more and more infatuated with the writers, we begin to question the impartiality of his view point. He is smitten by the romance writer Amy Cook and hates the “sociable nazi” Martin Sixsmith, who is the bar manager and his nemesis. The night porter may be the “all-seeing eye” of the novel but Barry never lets us forget that he is a human being with all of the flaws and prejudices that are part and parcel of that.
The novel ends in a froth of fun when, like a magician Barry pulls aside the curtain, affording the reader a tiny peek at the mechanisms behind crafting a story. The Night Porter is, without a doubt, indie writing at its best. It is an intelligent, funny and most of all engaging novel and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Vanessa chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry
What a different kind of book this was! Based on a “Night Porter” whose perspective on life is about to change radically by the arrival of four authors nominated for prestigious writing awards.
Amy – bestselling author of romantic fiction.
Frank – author of highly acclaimed thrillers.
Jo – young exciting writer of YA.
And last, but not least, Frank – self-published (practically unknown) writer of contemporary fiction.
I have to admit that at first I found this difficult to get into. I personally don’t drink (rarely ever) or smoke and the constant mention of alcohol and smoking put me off. This is a personal dislike of course. It did help to set the tone for these characters and I think this was why I did not like them much at first. BUT, as you read on you start to understand that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.
This is not just about an award ceremony! Truthfully, I had no idea what was coming and I will give no spoilers.
These are the thing you have to bear in mind…
Who is paying for Frank to stay at the hotel? Apparently, everyone hates him and what he represents.
Why does Amy come across so broken? She is a huge author about to perhaps win a major award after all.
Is Jo as nice as she seems?
Are Frank and Amy having an affair in the dark of the night?
So many questions. Read it for the answers.
I did NOT see the ending coming and because of this I loved it, even though at first it was not for me. I have to say that the turning point was the major bust-up in the bar – what a fantastic description! I was glued to the book after that.
I have to admit that having attended the IOW Literary Festival last year and given a talk as a self-published local author, I know the feeling of not stacking up against the big boys! Ha ha…
I read it in paperback and the use of footnotes threw me off a lot at first, but once I got used to them it was okay.
*I received this book via Rosie’s Book Review Team for an honest review*
Emily chose to read and review The Night Porter by Mark Barry
The Night Porter is comedic, dramatic and most of all incredibly entertaining. We are introduced to ‘The Night Porter’ who is a hardworking man so completely devoted to his job, he is only referred to by his title and above all he values his crucial dedication to the smooth running of The Saladin Inn.
When the Arkwright Literary Awards decide to pay for 4 of their shortlisted authors, Amy, Jo, Frank and Julian, to stay in The Saladin for two weeks, it is the Night Porters duty to ensure their every need is met. Though his charm and small talk welcomes the guests graciously, no amount of polite smiles could lower tensions between the authors themselves. We witness the Night Porter falter in his professionalism as he experiences attraction towards guests, an obvious disliking towards a colleague and inconspicuously tries to unearth the past cause of Amy and Julian’s blatant hatred towards each other.
As the awards loom and nerves rise, a sudden tragedy befalls one of the authors and the carefully organised awards night seems to be crumbling into pieces. We follow the Night Porter as he struggles to do what he usually does best- maintain order.
Mark Barry has managed to not only blend laughter and suspense so well into one story but also creates vivid characters and enthralling dilemmas. This book lacks nothing but it’s own literary award and overall was a delightful read.