HOTEL PLENTI by Miles Gibson


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Britisher Gibson's third novel, a moderately engaging fantasy, has its roots in Edward Lear and its heart in the kitchen; it is about the travails of some oddball characters, in darkest London and darkest Africa; it is also, obsessively, about food. It begins with Hazel Pope, an English gift undone by her sweet tooth. Her employer seduces her with a chocolate egg filled with sugar mice; the result is Frank, whom Hazel leaves in a shopping-basket at the Hercules Cafe, a no-frills establishment on a dingy London street. Frank lucks out, for the proprietor is one Olive Bean--""she loved children but she hated the thought of having to grow them."" The child is raised among comforting food-smells by Olive and her common-law husband Gilbert, who cooks fearlessly and relentlessly. Eventually they are joined by Veronica, a punk-looking waitress who captivates young Frank; Olive, defeated by old age, drowns in a pan of meat soup; and Gilbert fulfills an old dream by selling the cafe and, Frank and Veronica in tow, setting off for the African jungle to help his old friend Sam Pilchard run the Hotel Plenti. But instead of paradise they find desolation; Sam is dead of the fever and the sole occupants of the hotel are Boris, a sinister Central European, and Happy, a native who farts. The rains wash away the road to town and there is never enough food to keep the stew-pot bubbling. Gilbert, mysteriously swollen, explodes and dies; Frank shoots Boris and brings the hotel around to final, but unconvincing, prosperity. Gibson has the makings of an impressive fabulist, but he isn't there yet; he plots feebly, his characters are more than comic-strip creations but less than flesh-and-blood people, and, most damaging, he seems at the mercy of his obsessions. Stay tuned, though.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1988
Publisher: Harper & Row