Hilderbrand, Erin. The Hotel Nantucket. 592 pp. Little, Brown and Company, 2022. ISBN 978-0316445610 $37.00
A Nantucket ghost story about a woman who signs on to manage an up and coming property to score a perfect review from a travel influencer? Sign me up! I could not order this in advance from my local bookseller fast enough, and it devoured it in two nights, reading a few passages aloud in delight to my partner as I read; I waited until my second read-through at the end of the summer to draft this review and it was even better the second time around.
Lizbet Keaton has been hired by moneyed Brit Xavier Darling to oversee the renovation of a turn of the century hotel that is home to the unsolved death of a young chambermaid in 1922 fire. Reeling from a bad breakup, Lizbet makes the leap from front of the house at the popular restaurant The Deck to manage the Nantucket Hotel through it’s first season. Xavier challenges her to score a coveted 5 key (like stars) review from a popular travel blog. Lizbet, like Adrienne in The Blue Bistro, understands white glove service and eagerly agrees that the hotel will get the rating. The story details the season from the hiring of the staff to the quirky demanding guests, leaving several riddles to be solved: who are the two women Xavier says he purchased the hotel to impress? Why does privileged white boy Chad need a job as a maid? Why is Edie’s ex-boyfriend blackmailing her?
There are a lot of interwoven love stories to unravel: the ghostly chambermaid Grace and her affair; Lizbet, whose partner cheating by sexting another woman and is being pursued by a celebrity chef; Kimber, a divorcee who takes up residence for the summer with her children and dog and falls for the night watchman. Hilderbrand deftly weaves a tale with both historic detail and pop culture references. Ghost Grace is a perfect device to catch behind the scenes details and give insight and perspective to character and action.
I feel I have an appreciation, but neither skill or talent, nor cultivation of, interior design and architecture, art, and fine dining, blended rich descriptions of food and renovations. This novel was especially satisfying because Chef Mario Subiaco, pastry chef from The Blue Bistro, is running the hotel’s Blue Bar and woos the protagonist with fresh, fun appetizers and her namesake cocktail, the Heartbreaker. Realtor Fast Eddie from Rumors, police chief Kapenash and other familiar characters have references or appearances as well; Sweet Edie on the front desk is the daughter of Vance and Love from The Beach Club.
I don’t usually comment on cover art, but a Victorian edifice might have been a better choice for this one. Not only is the Nantucket Hotel not on the beach, but with only one day off every two weeks, most of the characters are so busy working they don’t go to the beach (there might be one reference to Children’s Beach, but even the wealthy owner jets out of town and misses a scheduled beach picnic).
If you enjoy Elizabeth Berg’s quirky characters and read Architectural Digest for fun, this one’s for you.