Christina Stead is one of those special writers, like Jean Rhys or I. Compton-Burnett, of consequence rather than fashion, whose works are unmistakably theirs in tone and inflection. The Little Hotel, a lesser book than any of her more imposing ones (notably, The Man Who Loved Children) wins your attention and sympathy to a far greater extent: it is a round robin recitative humming with activity within the walls of one of those third-class pensions in Lausanne -- after the war and before they were appropriated by the Germans or the young, There are a few semipermanent habitues, mixed nationals all, as well as occasional artistes from the Zig-Zag night club on the fourth floor. Here in very ""gaitered and neckbanded, parsonical"" Switzerland their tatty furs and flowered silks reflect the better circumstances they once knew. But they are tenacious survivors -- kept alive by pretense and avidity (money and property always play a great part in Miss Stead's novels) and little frictions. Separate stories connect recurrently, randomly: be it that of the mayor of B. (Belgium), an unstable bon vivant undergoing shock treatment; or Mrs. Trollope and her ""cousin"" who has not married her -- nor gotten her money; or Miss Chillard, tubercular and troublesome. The air is thick with intrigue, squabbling and underhanded upmanship. Stockings or scissors are stolen, anonymous accusations appear on postcards, and even Mme. Bonnard's husband -- she runs this Hotel Swiss-Touring -- listens on stairwells or through radiator pipes. It is her voice which animates this chatty, dartingly informal and ingratiating register. It is all marvelously observed and timelessly present -- as if Miss Stead had somehow managed to confine the crossroads of the world in the palm of her expert hand. A special taste, perhaps, but how pleasantly acquired.