Lost Girls and Love Hotels
By: Catherine Hanrahan
Margaret is doing everything in her power to forget home. And Tokyo’s exotic nightlife—teeming with drink, drugs, and three-hour love hotels—enables her to keep her demons at bay. Working as an English specialist at Air-Pro Stewardess Training Institute by day, and losing herself in a sex- and drug-addled oblivion by night, Margaret represses memories of her painful childhood in Canada and her older brother Frank’s descent into madness. But Margaret’s deliberate nihilism is thrown off balance as she becomes increasingly haunted by images of a Western girl missing in Tokyo. And when she becomes enamored of Kazu, a mysterious gangster, their affair sparks a chain of events that could spell tragedy for Margaret in a city where it’s all too easy to disappear. – Goodreads
Lost Girls and Love Hotels has a decent premise that explores Japan’s culture and nightlife. At the same time, the book is primarily about Margaret’s journey into this city. Moving between her present and her past, it pulls together the pieces of why she decided to go to Japan to be alone and the reason to escape her life. The novel is a fairly quick read (finished it in 2 days). It mostly has to do with the fact that everything is fairly concise and moves quickly from one event to the next. It moves through Margaret’s past quickly as well, jumping through her past in something like 2 year age progression and using one significant event between her and her brother Frank to portray their sibling and/or family relationship. Drawing a parallel with this is her present to be in Japan to be alone, a concept which outlines how “being alone isn’t about people” (I’m paraphrasing at best, I can’t remember the exact line). An interesting angle for sure as it does focus on Margaret’s trek through how she deals with her loneliness and how she fills up her own void through her nights with strangers at love hotels and her days at her uptight job that she doesn’t seem to take very seriously for the most part.
There are a few elements that is explored in the novel as a whole and everything does get touched on lightly. Which does progress the story quickly but at the same time, some of these elements feels like it could have benefited from having some more depth. Especially in terms of characters, it lacks in building up Margaret outside of the pieces of her past or constructing her decisions. Probably because it strays away from going too in-depth into any scene construction and simply leaving the space for the reader’s imagination. Its not a bad route at times but other times, it can feel a little empty. Much like Margaret, the people she meets and the emotional connection she has with them are also fairly shallow as well. Unlike the synopsis of the dangerous yakuza she meets Kazu, this relationship isn’t nearly as fleshed as it could be. Not in terms of the sexual elements but simply the connection that she has with him. At least not enough to support the extent that she goes and the “suffering” she ends up going through because of this.
Despite the shortcomings though, the setting itself and the pace of moving through the different scenes and the love hotel settings plus the nightlife all does feel very intriguing. The shortcoming from the character development is compensated by the overall structure of the novel which helps in being intrigued by how Margaret grew up and seeing what the deal with her brother is while moving in parallel with her life in Japan. The setting of Japan is portrayed fairly well while it intertwines the missing girl tangent that might not have been explored enough but still manages to bring in the thriller element as it becomes a question of whether she is missing and if so, whether the dangerous life she leads might take her down to some unfortunate endgame.
Goodreads score: 3/5 (its probably more of a 3.5)
In comparison to the film adaptation (you can check out the review HERE), Catherine Hanrahan also writes the screenplay however surprisingly, a lot of the events of the book right down to the characters and how certain elements are panned out are fairly jumbled together. There are pros and cons to either where some elements are done better in the book since it dives in Margaret’s past which the film doesn’t do and outlines her motives of being in Japan more while in terms of Kazu, the film does a better job of giving them a strong romantic connection but still not bringing in some of the elements of Kazu’s personal life that gets intertwined with Margaret which would endanger her. The film does also fall short when it comes to the missing girl plot point. Like I said, a lot of the film is the basic scenario and structure that stays the same but a lot of the events are executed differently which works in one way and doesn’t in some other way.