Book 37 of 52: Hotel Babylon by Anonymous and Imogen Edwards-Jones

When I do my taxes, I spend a lot of time organizing and tallying up receipts, so I pick a random show streaming on Netflix, and watch that while I work. A few years ago, that choice was Hotel Babylon, a BBC show that ran from 2006 to 2009. When I re-subscribed to Netflix, I found that I still had two more seasons to watch. And I loved every minute of it.

I didn’t know until after I’d finished with the series that the TV show was based on the book Hotel Babylon: Inside the Extravagance and Mayhem of a Luxury Five-Star Hotelby an anonymous reception desk clerk and Imogen Edwards-Jones. Hotel Babylon is a cover, and it’s pretty obviously why Anonymous chose that name – he names names, and even though the book was published in 2004, some are still big like Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Princess Diana and even the Queen Mum.

Those stories, however, are far from the most interesting in the book, which has as many “OMG that happens in hotels?” stories into one book as it can. I imagine that the structure was a challenge for Edwards-Jones. How to pack it all in? The solution is have Anonymous pull a double shift and tell the story of the hotel in 24 hours. It’s pretty brilliant. Between the ticking clock and flashbacks, Anonymous can share stories of the drunk guy who smashes his teeth in the urinal, people having sex outside the elevator, the big spenders from all countries and what they order, and requests for “extra pillows” i.e. prostitutes.

At first, I thought too much was being jammed into the book, but the pace evened out, and I was disappointed when the book ended, much like I was that the show was cancelled with no resolution to its cliff hanger (and that happened with my favorite American soapy guilty pleasure of Las Vegas). But all good things must come to an end, and at the end of Anonymous’ night, I’m relieved for him. Even if I really don’t know his name.

Here’s a sample from the show. The characters aren’t really the same from book to show, but the flavor is the same.

P.S. This book is also a good reminder about fast technology changes. Here’s how Hotel Babylon handled email: “Ewan is often too busy dealing with the faxes and telephone calls to check the email five or six times a day in case anything important comes in.” I remember in 2004 when I didn’t always have my email open, and I still got faxes at work. Inconceivable now.

P.S.S. I started to read another great book before this one arrived, but given the douses of bad news happening right now, dishy was exactly what I needed. I’m glad I found a copy of this book, at exactly the right time.

P.S.S.S. (Sorry but it’s late and I’ve had a lot to write today) I did like this more than the previous hotel-related book I read and wrote about on this blog. Both are still good, but Hotel Babylon has the leg up here.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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