Unapologetically sordid and deeply moving...
Lily’s daughter is seventeen, headstrong, sexually aware and the literal opposite of risk adverse. She has stolen her step-mother’s credit card and left London and her father’s shabby café behind for the LA sunshine in order to attend Lily’s funeral. She only makes it in time to witness the wake; a raggedly rakish affair. The Pink Hotel is heaving with the drunken and the stoned; its bereaved occupants wasted on the bitter sadness of the occasion and the lofty excessiveness of Lily’s life. Jetlagged and slightly hallucinatory, Lily’s daughter imagines herself invisible as she carves her way through the fleshy mess of people, climbs to the top of the hotel and subversively pokes around her dead mother’s belongings. Logically concluding that anything of sentimental value would be under the bed, she discovers a treasure trove of personal affects that present a tantalising opportunity to uncover the mystery of who her life-long absent mother was.
Stealing a suitcase of her dead mother’s belongings is just the beginning. And then, only at the end did it occur to me that I didn’t even know the girl’s name. She was ‘Lily’s daughter’, ‘trouble’, ‘I’ or ‘you’. Yet this nameless entity brought so much personality to her story. From the involuntary urge to piece together some semblance of her mother’s life, to the emotionally damaged need to somehow live in her mother’s shoes – or, more precisely - sleep with at least one of her mother’s ex husbands. The unnervingly real naivety and counterfeit self-assurance of a seventeen year old girl fumbling her way around one of the world’s most dangerously seductive and surreal cities as Los Angeles, causes anxiety and palpitations – even for the least maternal of us.
There is a pervasive sense of mental illness; half acknowledged, half shunned that has an almost palpable cloying smell: like death. The narrator’s thoughts intermittently tumble between the sick imagery of a gaping baby’s mouth and bloodiness and soft-focus sexual fantasies; the convoluted jumble of a young mind that doesn’t understand itself or the world around it is perfectly terrible.
Stothard has created a character that is desperately real, beguilingly childish and simultaneously overly-worldly-wise. Her sexual antics are worrisome; her blasé attitude towards sex even more so. Her absent-minded absorption of her mother’s world of drugs, booze and sex But it is the deadened reaction to the happiness that ‘she’ finds at the end, as it almost passes you by that gives the real jolt. The realisation that she has found love, has moved on and got herself a life barely penetrates the thick veil of sadness you feel for her – everything she has in the end feels contrived, lacking any real control over her own life. The weight of her story feels leaden still, pulling you downwards. It congeals around the more sordid and disquieting elements of the weeks and months that this seventeen year old girl moves like a ghost through her dead mother’s life. Considering its autobiographical slant, The Pink Hotelleaves you feeling vaguely distraught; a little teary-eyed even. It may be carefully embellished, or flamboyantly exaggerated, but the voice feels authentic; and that damn near breaks your heart.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012