Desert Isle Keeper
One Night at the Palace Hotel
In this Philippines-set novella, Consuelo de la Red’s night of reckoning has come. Her property tycoon boyfriend is opening the Palace Hotel, and he’ll be asking her to marry him, a bargain that exchanges his family’s money for Consuelo’s family’s old and storied name. What the boyfriend doesn’t realize is that his hotel’s architect, Sam Jose, is Consuelo’s former lover, whom she was forced to leave behind after an aborted attempt at freedom in Chicago. Imagine Consuelo as Rose, Sam as Jack, and the Palace Hotel as their not-doomed Titanic, and you have the bones of this story, but a better ending. It’s a luxurious escape, and one I both enjoyed and recommend.
Sam Jose starts as a charmer hero, refusing to be cowed by Consuelo’s ice-queen act when they meet at in line at a hot dog stand. During their breakup and at their reunion, he adds a whole range of complex and authentic emotions – anger, gentleness, wounded pride, longing, bargaining, physical attraction, and love. To fit such a nuanced male character into a short novella when other authors struggle to do it in entire books is an impressive achievement. I also liked how Sam puts all of his feelings out there for Consuelo, but ultimately leaves the decision to choose him up to her.
At times, Consuelo is hard to like. She treats servants in an entitled way (the woman styling her for the wedding is, in Consuelo’s head, ‘Make-Up Girl’) and is quite in thrall to her parents for someone in her twenties. However, Consuelo’s upbringing has been borderline cult-ish, with her parents indoctrinating her into the cult of her bloodline. Her mother not only names Consuelo after herself, but she also, creepily, gives Consuelo a diminutive of Mama’s nickname (Mama Consuelo goes by Concha and calls daughter Consuelo ‘Conchita’). Concha can be overheard boasting that her family is elevated not only by its foreign blood, but by the fact that those foreigners were Spanish businessmen and not the priests who ran the Philippines for centuries – “No children of friar rape in our bloodline!” That kind of brainwashing, especially when coupled with the pull of the family purse strings, is hard to throw off. Sam, who knows the name of the hotel bartender, is clearly a good influence, and by the end of the book, Consuelo’s treatment of a driver is much improved.
The author’s writing is strong. I particularly like her dialogue, although I’m not a fan of dialogue tags and would have preferred less sneering, commanding, hissing, etc. She captures the different character voices effectively, particularly Sam’s American-influenced male speech. The sex scenes are hot and character-filled. I’m not completely sure, but I think Consuelo’s boyfriend Benjo Yu is supposed to have Chinese ancestry (based on the surname, a Buddha decoration, and a feng shui reference). Since the Yus were the only Chinese characters, his horribleness, coupled with his family’s reputation for cheap mass building, made me a bit uncomfortable.
On the whole, though, this was a great short read. If you, like Consuelo and Sam, have just one night to indulge yourself, One Night at the Palace Hotel is the book you should pick.