Do not disturb

The author of "Interpreter of Maladies" checks in with great fiction about hotels.

By Jhumpa Lahiri
Published April 3, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

A home away from home. A refuge, a respite. And best of all, room service. Here are some first-class scenes and stories set in hotels worth visiting.

"Lovers of Their Time" by William Trevor (in "The Collected Stories")

A doomed affair, circa 1963, between a middle-aged British travel agent trapped in a miserable marriage and a young shopgirl looking to settle down. The two begin to tryst during their lunch hour in a marble bathroom in London's Great Western Royal Hotel, where, after making love, they sit together in a giant tub, miraculously undisturbed.

"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J.D. Salinger (in "Nine Stories")

Salinger's classic takes place in a Florida hotel, over the course of a single afternoon. Up in Room 507, Muriel Glass polishes her nails and speaks to her mother on the phone. Out on the beach, her husband, Seymour, lies on the sand in his bathrobe, takes a little girl into the ocean and kisses the arch of her foot. From three spare scenes, we apprehend an entire tragedy.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Chapters 27-32)

"Le grand moment" of the novel: Humbert Humbert whisks Lolita out of Camp Q and into the Enchanted Hunters, "that venerable place full of perspiring philistines and period objects." Outside on the porch, Quilty's onto the seduction-in-progress. By morning, Humbert discovers that he is not even Lolita's first lover.

"To Room Nineteen" by Doris Lessing (in "Stories")

Susan Rawlings, a frustrated housewife seeking freedom from her family, repeatedly escapes her house in suburban London to spend a few solitary hours doing absolutely nothing in a shabby hotel near Paddington Station. A chilling portrait of the terrors of depression.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Has any man pined as profoundly, and as pathetically, as Gustav Aschenbach? Beautiful descriptions of the Lido in its glamorous heyday, and of Tadzio, the world's most beautiful boy.

Eloise by Kay Thompson (Drawings by Hilary Knight)

Confessions of a pint-size eccentric who lives with her nanny, her dog and her turtle in Manhattan's Plaza Hotel. Highlights: Eloise combing her hair with a fork, wearing an egg cup on her head. To quote our impish guide, "Merci and charge it please."

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of "Interpreter of Maladies: Stories."

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