The Hotel Albatross was an interesting book with a funny and moving plot. I picked it at random off the library shelf because I liked the conversational tone of the first page. When I choose reading material, the cover or blurb isn’t enough information; I need to know what form the in-text will take. It’s about the running of a hotel and pub in an old Australian outback country town. I used to think running a hotel would be a sexy job in hot demand but the picture this book paints about the hotel management business is bleak. Still the way in which Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying, writes has a certain charm which sustains your interest.
It is mainly about two characters, the Captain and his wife, who find themselves in charge of the hotel after taking on temporary ownership due to mismangement by its previous racist owner. So they find themselves running the place by accident and their endeavours to sell it rarely succeed. The Captain takes care of breaking up fights in the hotel bar, chatting to patrons and dealing with the arising tensions between the indigenous people and the Caucasians. It is told from the perspective of the wife though who takes on the role of housekeeper and when kitchen or bar staff fail to show up for work, either as cook or bartender. She has to sort out decorations for weddings while making sure to satisfy each family member, smooth the ruffled feathers of less than happy staff members and deal with the unhygienic habits of a disgusting customer that brings on a rat infestation. She dreams of escaping to somewhere else where she can avoid the routine.We are treated to eccentric caricatures of the staff and the guests at the hotel and it is this odd cast which makes the story really poignant despite it’s lack of linear structure.
We have the raffle ticket selling waitress Bev, a stubborn and belligerent but good-hearted woman; the ingenious cook who used leftovers to make mouth-watering fare; the pianist doctor who liked playing melancholy pieces and drove away customers; Shirley, who manages the working-class bar and the sultry cocktail waitress Gloria who feels her talents at pouring drinks are of little use at the Galley, the bar mainly patronised by gay men. All this is intertwined with the politics of life in a rural Australian town and how this sometimes clashes with human nature which is always seeking instant gratification. Meanwhile the introduction of bottle shops is causing problems for their country pub. The author provides us with insight into what it is like managing the Hotel Albatross depicting how stressful and tiring it is but at the very end what seems like a very calamitous and heartbreaking misfortune actually also brings the Captain and his tired wife some welcome respite.