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Monday, August 12, 2019

The Electric Hotel (2019) by Dominic Smith


Book Review
The Electric Hotel (2019)
 by Dominic Smith

   American-Australian author Dominic Smith is five novels deep into his career- which is great, but he hasn't had a hit yet.  Last time out, he made a move onto Farrar, Straus, Giroux and The Electric Hotel is his second book for them. It's a sprawling work of historical fiction mostly about the silent film era and World War I.   Claude Ballard is living out his days in a decrepit Hollywood area SRO when an enterprising film student induces him to revisit his lost silent film classic The Electric Hotel- years ahead of it's time but essentially lost and forgotten in the present day.

  Much of the book involves Ballard recounting his biography:  Childhood in Paris, recruited by the Lumiere brothers to market their motion picture machine  internationally,  pre-Hollywood film impresario, love of a Greta Garbo esque silent film star, clashes with Thomas Edison over motion picture patents- and I really had trouble making it through this first half of the book- even in Audiobook format, because the plot often seemed more like an essay on film history than the kind of narrative you look for in a early 21st century work of literary fiction. 

   However, Smith continues the story into Ballard's sojourn as a would-be journalist on the western front of World War I, and at that point, the pace really picks up, and the fairly mundane details of the pre-Hollywood silent film era are replaced by a more engaging story about World War I. 

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