Cover Image: Grand Hotel Europa

Grand Hotel Europa

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Member Reviews

This was an unusual book. It’s fiction, but the Ilja in the book is also the author, and whilst there is a plot of sorts, it’s also well researched and contains statistics so feels like a non fiction book at times. It’s also very long and whilst my description may make it seem a bit dry, it’s also very readable and entertaining at times. 

The grand hotel europa of the title is a metaphor for Europe, with it’s old faded glamour, coming apart at the seams and merely existing on its past glories. It has turned into a bit of a living museum for tourists but needs to be saved by a Chinese businessmen. Those working at the hotel include Abdul, a migrant working as a bellboy, building a new life, whilst Mr Montobello, the major domo, wants to maintain the old ways but it’s no longer working. The old Europa has to change. As a metaphor, it felt a bit heavy handed, but it’s also a memorable setting. 

Like I said earlier, what was a bit confusing to begin with is that the protagonist in the book is also the author, who has retired to the hotel to write about his past relationship with a fiery Italian called Clio, and there is a bit of a plot in which they are searching for a lost Caravaggio. These parts offered a bit of light relief, and there’s one monumental argument that is very funny. I certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Clio.

It does have quite an ironic tone and a nice rhythm to it. I never got bored of it, I just felt that I some of the themes were crowbarred in. It took me a while to get through this one, as it’s quite a long book, weighing in at 560 pages. But that’s certainly not to say that it was a total slogfest - lots of it is very entrertaining and it definitely explores some interesting ideas. 


It certainly made me think a lot about tourism and the effects it has on the life of inhabitants. Some of the statistics showed the devastation. Venice features in the book, deluged as it is by 18 million tourists a year (50,000 a day) and if its rate of population decline continues, it will be empty by 2030. The author talks about how he could buy Chinese made carnival masks on every street corner, but nothing such as washing up liquid or fresh tomatoes for those who lived there. A city loses part of its soul when it gives itself up completely to tourism, as any visitors to Dublin recently will also tell you, with it’s airbnbs owned by rental and real estate companies.

Europe has become an open air museum, a fantastic historical park for tourists.

I have been a tourist and of course I have thought of the impact tourism have. I realised this when I visited Barcelona and became aware of the fight to make the city centre a place for people to live in again, rather than existing to merely serve tourism. At the same time, there’s a reliance on the income from tourists as the traditional industries decline, but is that the best employment that residents can look forward to - to merely sell trinkets to tourists? There’s definitely a balance to be found, but it seems very lopsided at present. But when a continent trades itself on it’s past, what else has it got to sell?

‘Europe is drowning in it’s own history. There is so much past in Europe that there’s no space left for the future.’


The book is also interesting when it comes to the growth of right wing populism and the nostalgia for a better time that never actually existed (Hello Brexit Britain), closing it’s borders, bringing back imperial measurements and hanging out the flags. Utterly depressing.

It also made me laugh when Ilja talked of not being a tourist and going to other places that were off the beaten track and being annoyed when other tourists are also there, tourists who had also decided that they too weren’t like the normal tourists and wanted to go off the beaten track. What’s apparent, is that there is nowhere that hasn’t been tainted by tourism and it’s silly to think otherwise.

It also has some interesting points to make about migration, and how poverty is just as deadly as war. People have been migrating since we’ve been able to stand upright, and we populated two continents from our beginnings in Africa.  One of the most optimistic ideas in the book is that Europe can become revitalised by channeling the stream of migrants to it’s advantage, as it has an ageing population, and can use some youthful vigour. 

The hotel contains a number of different characters, all representative of a different type. There’s a bolshy female French poet, the brash American tourists, an old Greek man and the eminent scholar Patelski, who in conversation with Ilja made me pause to consider the point of travel.


Travel is often a way of running away from yourself. Sure, there is the pleasure you get from the feeling of displacement, of being in a different environment. But you can’t escape yourself. And it’s quite egotistical as well, achieving our sense of individual freedom and damn the consequences. Maybe it would be better to close our eyes and spend some time alone with ourselves in a room and and then improve the lives of those around us, rather than running off to distant corners of the planet. And a couple of broken interactions with a local isn’t a meaningful exchange.

One of the questions asked is ‘does travel really broaden your mind?’  I’ve met so many people who treat travel like some tick box exercise, who consider it vital that they have to visit fifty countries before they turn fifty etc. Really? Some of the least interesting people I’ve met have been those who’ve travelled the most. Listening to someone drone on about their holiday experiences for hours on end is a bit like listening to someone recount their dreams in detail - you really had to be there. Like I say, this is a book that asks some interesting questions. I should say that I do like travel myself, and I do value experiences - I just think they can be personal to the individual which can make them sound self absorbed.

All in all, writing this review made me realise this was a much better book than I initially thought. That happens some times with me; I’m so relieved to finish a book when it’s over 500 pages that it’s only when I sit down to gather my thoughts  that I realise it was an interesting read. I do think it would have worked better if it had been shorter, but nevertheless, pretty readable and lots to think about.

Thanks to Netgalley and 4th estate for the review copy.
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I'm sorry to say this book was not for me. It's not so much a novel as a social commentary of the problems with tourism and the decline of Europe. The hotel as a metaphor for Europe a little too obvious and none of the characters spoke to me at all. I found it drawn out and slow. Sorry but as I said just not for me.
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This is a long novel, in which the narrator – given the same name as the author – retreats to the Grand Hotel Europa to ponder the possible ending of a relationship.  The Grand Hotel Europa stands for Europe itself, the old continent, which has, in many ways, become a living museum for tourists.   Meanwhile, of course, the world is changing and so the Grand Hotel Europa has new management, who happily remove paintings from the walls, or replace chandeliers, with something more modern.   Mr Wang sees every desecration as an improvement, while Mr Montebello, the major-domo, clings to the past.  The bellboy, Abdul, represents migrants and he discusses his story with the narrator, as they stand smoking outside the front doors, awaiting new guests.   However, more evident are the various residents who seem to have established themselves and are unwilling to leave.

It is hard to review this novel.  It deals with various themes, such as the future of Europe, the impact of tourism, borders, immigration, and relationships.   In many ways, it says a lot, but nothing that the reader has not already probably pondered themselves.  It does say what it says beautifully though.  Like tourism itself, this novel is a journey which, ultimately leads you to have pleasant memories but does not really shift your perspectives.  I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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A great novel: ideas, storyline, point of view... I am a new fan of Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, the writer and narrator of this wonderfully funny and provocative allegory about Europe. Europe´s culture, its present and its future, the perils of mass tourism, globalisation... mighty themes woven around the compelling love story of the said Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer and Clio Chiavari Cattaneo (the aristocratic surname is real too). 
Ilja has gone to the Grand Hotel Europa to write the novel that we are reading and in which he recounts his doomed love story and times with Clio - during which there were explorations into the art world, research into a novel about mass tourism, and in-depth analysis of the vagaries of human love. His stay in the hotel forms also a parallel story in which the (European) allegory is fleshed out through the characters, their interaction and the actual changing building...
I thoroughly enjoyed this easy yet complex  narrative. I loved the ironic, perplexed, dress-aware narrator who looks (and laughs) at himself without flinching, and who tells the stories with clarity, unsentimentally.... and delights in setting scenes in a number of different styles (from steamy sex scene to an Indiana Jones-type adventure, a serious disquisition of Venice´s dilemmas.... I found myself googling unlikely places, people and facts, and finding (to my delight or horror!!) that they were totally factual.  
There is humour, some melancholy, and a lightness of touch in all the weaving of stories and serious topics which makes the whole novel a real treat, entertaining and ambitious in its scope, rather pessimistic in some of the conclusions but totally worth reading. The exuberance and pace of the writing are ultimately optimistic and reconciles one to the world at large: I kept thinking of Michel Houellebecq (whom I like) and deciding that there is a certain similarity in their project but that ILP was less acid, more humane, more believable. I also found myself wanting to know what is ILP thinking about current events in Eastern Europe, such is the interest his ideas about the world at large, and the European world in particular held for this reader.
With many thanks to 4th Estate via NetGalley for an opportunity to read this top novel.
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This is a fascinating, clever, and well-translated book which confused me at first because the main protagonist's name is the author's name. However, for all I know, they may well share some characteristics, I do not think that this is an autobiographical novel. What it is, I believe, is a metaphorical consideration of the state of Europe in the twenty-first century days of globalisation, which, as I write this review in March 2022, look as though they may be over, or at least on hold.

In Grand Hotel Europa, Europe as a whole is depicted as being in the late stages of turning into a tourist park, often Chinese-owned, primarily for non-European tourists, whilst European society and economy stagnate. As such, this novel compares to Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain in which a sanitorium with an international clientele metaphorically represents Europe in the run up to World War 1.
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I like the playful tone but I just couldn't engage with this book as a novel: the metaphor of the hotel for Europe feels both too obvious and too long drawn out - all the points the book wants to make could have been done more succinctly and incisively in an essay. I'm not sure I agree, anyway, with all that nostalgia as the moribund royalty and aristocracy emerge at the end for the funeral. There's both too much and too little crammed into the story - sorry, just not for me.
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I feel like I need to apologist to this book for not reading it sooner! What a ride. I think what I enjoyed the most is the pace, it has a nice rhythm and once you get into, it's hard to want to pause.
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A writer takes residence in the illustrious but decaying Grand Hotel Europa, to think about where things went wrong with Clio, with whom he fell in love in Genoa and moved to Venice. He reconstructs a compelling story of love in times of mass tourism, about their trips to Malta, Palmaria, Portovenere and the Cinque Terre and their thrilling search for the last painting of Caravaggio. Meanwhile, he becomes fascinated by the mysteries of Grand Hotel Europe and gets more and more involved with the memorable characters who inhabit it, and who seem to come from a more elegant time. All the while, globalisation seems to be grabbing hold even on this place frozen in time.
Grand Hotel Europa is Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s masterly novel on the old continent, where so much history resides that there is no place left for a future and where the most realistic future perspectives are offered in the form of exploiting the past in the shape of tourism. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Grand Hotel Europa is epic in its ambition  and scale. A book that attempts to reflect on recent histories and an evolving and rapidly changing world ; using the Grand Eurooa Hotel as a base to explore the changing pathway of human endeavours , global economies and how we connect to each other. A writer takes up residency within the hotel and attempts to tell the story of a failed relationship ; this relationship in some senses reflects the demise of the hotel . The story of the relationship is also an exploration of art history interplayed against a continent in crisis. A meditation on European history  and how history does not necessarily enable us to move forward when we live off past glories … the story of the relationship set in different European locations also explores how tourism is controlled by a desire to find a past like an historical theme park …what is the human psyche actually striving for .. The hotel is also under new Chinese ownership and the management is trying to perfect the European ideal within their changing approach. The permanent residents of the hotel view the changes with bewilderment and challenge and this ultimately echoes the wider changes within a continent that is losing its identify. A bold novel and one that takes time to read and digest. At times it felt a little too self worthy but it was worth making the journey to Grand Hotel Europa.
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I don’t know what it is but I love a hotel setting for a book, and this one was no exception!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.
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This is a really unusual novel, written in a grand, almost old-fashioned style and tackling the tourist industry. It is packed full of facts - some obvious and others obscure. Sometimes the facts were so detailed I got a bit bored but I also found some of the author’s observations funny and insightful. The main female character, Clio certainly has a way with a crushing insult. All in all, I would recommend this book as a truly unusual read.
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I am still at the beginning of this book, and it is fascinating!  I have never read a book quite like it, stylistically, as its setting is contemporary, but the atmosphere and characters seem to come from another time altogether, rather dream-like or like a parallel universe....  I would highly recommend this to lovers of literary fiction and fiction in translation, as it is very un-English in tone, and none the worse for that!
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