Yet another book I bought in Stanford’s, you’ll have to be patient, I got eight books that day and am working my way through them as fast as I can. This one I bought because last year together with the Bigger Half we spent our vacation in Portugal, we visited Porto and Lisbon and our week on the beach we spent in Estoril, so when I saw this book I couldn’t resist.
The book takes place in Hotel Palacio Estoril, during the WWII. The story starts when Gavriel Franklin, Gaby, a young boy, arrives to the hotel on his own, as his parents were stopped at the border, but managed to arrange someone to smuggle him to Portugal. He meets the hotel manager Mr Black and says that he’s got a room booked and has been told to wait here for his parents, as he obviously has enough money to pay his stay Mr Black allows the boy to stay. The war rages in Europe, but Estoril seems to be relatively calm, Stankovic describes how it was possible to fly from Lisbon to both London and Berlin on the same day. Because of Portugal’s ‘neutrality’ and Estoril’s prestige it is full of dispossessed royals, people on their way to America and spies. Casino Estoril (which you can somehow see in my picture on top of the page) is said to be Ian Fleming’s inspiration for writing Casino Royale. Over the years Gaby meets a host of various people in the hotel, including Duško Popov, who is considered to be one if the inspirations for James Bond character. We also get to meet Ian Fleming fleetingly and Antoine de Saint-Exupery (though this part of the story was a bit too explicit), former king of Romania and his wife and World Chess Champion Aleksander Alekhine (this was an interesting part of the story that I didn’t know). Generally the book is a series of vignettes revolving around the Hotel Palacio Estoril and Gaby, there is no linear plot as such, just a series of events. Estoril and Lisbon are very well described, but do not become characters in their own right. The author focuses more on the people who happen to pass through Estoril and their stories, one thing we notice quite quickly is that no one stays there for long, apart from the hotel staff and Gaby waiting for his parents.
It probably was unfortunate that I recently read A Gentleman in Moscow, which also took place exclusively in a hotel and was by far a better book. I think what I was missing in this book was the atmosphere, Stankovic has done a lot of research and put together a great mosaic for historical personas and facts, but somehow didn’t fully succeed in building the coherence, the stories felt very separate, as if they lacked continuity that could have been achieved by consistent atmosphere. It is not a bad book and certainly interesting read allowing to discover how many different public and not-so-public personas stayed at Estoril during war and why it was considered a spy hub. A very good idea, great research, a bit disappointing execution.