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Friday, 10 February 2017

Event Recap: Heather O'Neill's launch for The Lonely Hearts Hotel

On February 7th, we hosted celebrated Montreal author Heather O'Neill at the Rialto Hall for the sold-out launch of her latest  novel, The Lonely Hearts Hotel!



Heather was kind enough to arrive early and pre-sign some books for the store (if you couldn't make it to the launch, we still have signed copies!).


To start things off, our erstwhile store manager (and current Director of Special Sales) Rebecca Lloyd gave a rundown of Heather's many honours.


Laurel Sprengelmeyer (aka talented singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Little Scream) was Heather's interlocutor for the night! She kicked things off by reading the book jacket's effusive praise from Helen Oyeyemi, Emily St. John Mandel, and Miranda July. She then offered her own review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel is so good, she's throwing out all her Miranda July books.


Then Laurel and Heather got to talking. The book's two main characters, Rose and Pierrot, are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the the Winter of 1914. Heather described some of her historical research for the book, which included time in the archives of the Grey Nuns. As it happens, the sisters used to run a home for young, unwed mothers where such girls would be (essentially) interned while carrying their unborn children, which would then be deposited in orphanages. The book opens with a scene in such a house for young women. O'Neill's description captures the misery of this world in heart-wrenching detail while still maintaining a child's sense of innocent naivet√©. 


Throughout the book, O'Neill's blend of casual cruelty and surreal enchantment impart a Henry-Darger-ish charm. O'Neill has a highly visual way with words -- she and Laurel discussed the influence of silent film (and early pornography!) on the book's imagery. To read a passage that was conceived as a ''split-screen scene,'' Heather called for a volunteer: ''coincidentally,'' Richard Reed Parry from the Arcade Fire was in the audience, and he stepped into the role of Pierrot!


Laurel and Heather also discussed the book's play with gender roles: as a response to the frequently sexualized description of women's bodies in literature, O'Neill decided to reverse things and lavish regular description on Pierrot's impressive member. After conflicts with her editors, however, some of these saucy passages (but not all!) were cut down or removed. 


Moving into the question period, one curious audience member asked about a particular Spanish wine mentioned in Lullabies for Little Criminals. O'Neill admitted that it was a $9 dep wine that is no longer available and that she regrets mentioning it: ''I knew nothing about the world!'' she exclaimed.


And then came the signing! Look at this lineup!


Heather was a champ! She even stuck around to sign extra copies after the crowd dispersed. A big thanks to everyone who came out to make this event such a success!




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