In the opening pages of The Third Hotel, van den Berg’s second novel, a traveling elevator inspector named Clare sees her husband on the street in Havana. The problem with this is that her husband is dead. That’s actually why she’s in Havana; he was a horror movie scholar who was meant to be there for a film festival, and she decided to attend in his stead after his sudden death. Instead of finding salve, or closure, she realizes she’s “experiencing a dislocation of reality.”
As she and her late husband’s specter haunt the city, she tries to come to grips with their marriage, her childhood and her increasingly fuzzy sense of self. In evocative, lucid prose, van den Berg conjures the psyche of a woman unmoored, and examines how marriage and solitude, travel and domesticity, and other forces create and stabilize our identities.
The Third Hotel is dense with everything that makes a novel memorable: psychological complexity, sensory vividness, narrative tension and ideas about humanity and art.