I am quite a fan of Dan Brotzel’s dry wit and comical situations so when Hotel du Jack got released, I immediately jumped on it and I was not disappointed!
The collection is centred around depicting the lives of the average English families for the most, and is humour is not only close to the bone, it is close to home. Whoever is familiar with the likes of juggling one’s family, job meetings and presentations whilst still making time for hobbies or romance won’t be able to read this book without nodding in approval and recognition a lot, occasionally painfully clenching at the far too familiar descriptions of kids birthday parties, school runs, soft play and family holidays, or office politics.
The entire collection is written in the buoyant, unassuming, wry voice quite typical to Brotzel. But under the bubbly surface lays a deeper tone, bleak or sad, exposing modern live anxieties about parenting, failure, ageing or death.
A middle-aged man loses his work mojo in Infinite Rainbows, a lonely woman lets her gullibility take her too far in Lord in your mercy, a man fears losing his wife to her job in The appeal, another realises his money isn’t bringing him happiness in Embarrassment of riches.
“The warm-up hadn’t gone too badly at least. Rick got everyone to go around and share a fact about themselves that no one else in the room knew. One woman once shared a taxi with David Beckham, another was a secret crochet fan, the Head of Digital Something revealed he had never tried Weetabix.” (Infinite Rainbows)
As a parent, I find that the collection really speaks to me, whether it is with the farcical and all too true descriptions of one’s struggle trying to get kids to school on time and without forgetting anything (Crumbs), or the sting of the responsibility that come with parenthood, the desire not to ever disappoint children, the blunt realisation that one cannot protect their children always and for ever.
Dan Brotzel’s bravely unveils the vulnerability of all parents, putting on paper thoughts that are often kept buried and difficult to come to terms with. ( the excellent Ella G in a country churchyard rand the devastating The angry Sun God.)
He looks t his daughter, who is now making a bracelet with flowers from a battered graveside bouquet. He has brought her into a world in which she must die.He wishes with all his heart that it were not so, or that he could explain, or at least apologise. (Ell G in a country churchyard)
He also depicts how complex those parents’ relationships become, with all the fights involved: trying to find time for themselves, for their love life, for their work and their children, friends, holidays, hobbies, and how easily that delicate balance that is parenting can be tipped an irreparable damage done (Near miss and the frustratingly short First world problems.)
Brotzel also explores broader relationships, whether it is the community ones (Who’s your neighbour), the work ones that inevitably come with a dose of cringe or aggravation (Nothing so blue, Minutes of Divisional Board Meeting Q4/18) or romantic ones, doomed (The paths of the Great Lovers cross at Victoria Station) or standing the test of time (Bury me with the animals).
I particularly liked The Great Willie Whizz Bang, whether it’s due to my unhealthy fascination with children entertainers and Brittany Ferries magicians or because of how subtly layered this story is, like a perfect prose Millefeuille, alternating fun and tragedy to perfection.
The secret of a good kids’ entertainer is to have some jokes up your sleeve for the adults too, and this one used to be a banker. A couple of the dads did snigger, but afterwards the mum in charge took me to one side. As she handed over the balance of my so-called “fee”, she came over all serious, said thank you for the show but she felt duty-bound to offer some feedback. (The great Willie Whizz Bang)
Staying on the subject of pastries, I liked The Beach shop a lot. It was so well depicted, I could tase that grand-creme, I could smell that beach air, I could picture Jean-Luc in his flip flops, the camping site, the plastic buckets and spades, and the crunchy baguettes. I definitely loved that French setting, but maybe I am biased? Probablement.
Though Dan Brotzel is quite the Francophile, his bland of self-deprecation and derision, stiff upper lip attitude with a hint of surrealism (think Black books, French & Saunders and The Office, with a touch of Mr Bean) is quintessentially English, and very good indeed.
Hotel du Jack is the sweet topping on the aforementioned Millefeuille, the longest and most intricate story of the collection. Though the subject matter is a classic one – selfish, vain man has an epiphany and grows into a deep, caring human – it is well-executed, with Jack reaching thus epiphany through the lecture of what he initially thinks might be the most boring book on the planet.
Jack’s path to goodness is punctuated with excerpts from that fictional book, which provide additional entertainment in the story-within-a-story format, along with much laughter.
“I think after all I shall have some broccoli, said Patricia Porlock to the young waitress, noticing as she did so a sensation of great pleasure sweeping through her.”
A bouncy and heartfelt read. Get ordering!
Hotel du Jack is published by Sandstone Press and is available here.
Dan Brotzel’s stories have appeared in Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Lucent Dreaming, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, The Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. He won the 2018 Riptide Journal short story competition, was runner-up in the 2019 Leicester Writes competition, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018. He is also coauthor of a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound).
He lives in London with his partner Eve and their three children – Isla, Poppy and Huw.
Reviewed by B.F. Jones
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