The Lonely Hearts Hotel

Set in Montreal and New York between the World Wars, Heather O'Neill's novel tells the story of two orphans whose unusual talents allow them to imagine a sensational future.

Heather O'Neill

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their true talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing for the rich, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both escape into the city's underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. Vicious, absurd and perverse, Montreal in the 1920s is no place for song and dance. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes — after years of searching and desperate poverty — the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they'll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. After Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls hit the stage and the alleys, the underworld will never look the same. (From HarperCollins Canada)

The Lonely Hearts Hotel was on the Canada Reads 2021 longlist.

Heather O'Neill is a writer from Montreal. Her books include the novels Lullabies for Little CriminalsThe Girl Who Was Saturday Nightthe short story collection Daydreams of Angels and the nonfiction book Wisdom in Nonsense. She the first back-to-back finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night was a finalist in 2014 and Daydreams of Angels was a finalist in 2015.

From the book

The Mother Superior always took particular notice of the boys and girl in the younger group, the two- to six-year-olds, who were lodged on the second floor. The first thing Pierrot and Rose had in common was the black cat. The Mother Superior was always trying to get rid of the black cat, which seemed to haunt the orphanage. It had spikey hair and looked as though it had just climbed out of a vat of tar and was miserable about its fate. There were days it could never be found. It would seem to just disappear into the walls. But one time she found it in Pierrot's bed. They were asleep, wrapped up in each other's arms like lovers. She chased it right out the window. She was sure that that was the last time she would ever lay eyes on it.

And then she saw it again, talking to Rose. The little girl was crouched over and was speaking to the cat as though they were going over some very important business together. But Rose was so young that she couldn't even speak proper words yet. She was just uttering garbled, burbling noises. They sounded like water in a tiny pot bubbling over. The cat was listening carefully to what Rose said and then hastened out the door, as if to deliver the message to the insurgents.

From The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill ©2017. Published by HarperCollins Canada.

Interviews with Heather O'Neill

Celebrated Montreal writer Heather O'Neill on how gendered expectations limit the lives of young women, and why she thinks it's time to lift the protective gauze off girlhood.

More about The Lonely Hearts Hotel

Other books by Heather O'Neill


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