The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

It was Susanne who recommended this one for the CPR Book Group which is a place for neglected authors or books. The only books by Arnold Bennett which I had previously read were all set in The Potteries and this one is completely different from them, as far as I can remember anyway because I think I was a teenager when I read them, which wasn’t yesterday! I don’t know how widely read his books are nowadays, I certainly haven’t come across many people reading them but this one is certainly worth reading.

I really enjoyed this book which was first published in 1902 but my copy is a 1954 Penguin, orange. It could just as well have been in their green vintage crime livery because that is what it is.

The Grand Babylon Hotel in London is the sort of discreet but oppulent place that if you have to ask the price – you can’t afford it. The American multi millionaire Theodore Racksole is staying there with his daughter Nella and he isn’t pleased by the way the head waiter, Jules is looking down his nose at them. On the spur of the moment Theodore decides to buy the prestigious hotel, at least then he’ll be able to get the steak and bottle of Bass which he wants.

Things aren’t what they seem to be and it isn’t long before Theodore and Nella realise that there are nefarious goings on behind the facade of quiet classiness.

This was originally published as a serial and Bennett wrote the 15 installments in 15 days and sold it for £100. It was described as the most original, amusing and thrilling serial written in a decade.

Arnold Bennett lived at the Savoy Hotel in London and it was the chef there who came up with the dish which became known as Omelette Arnold Bennett because he was so fond of it. You can see Sophie Dahl whipping one up if you’re interested.

There aren’t many people who have had dishes named after them. The only others that I can think of at the moment are Peach Melba and Melba toast, named after the opera singer Dame Nelly Melba and Pavlova after Anna. Eggs Benedict too, Lemuel Benedict was an American stockbroker. There must be others though.

3 thoughts on “The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

  1. Now I have to look for this book — I worked in a hotel kitchen for two years and I always dreamed about writing a murder mystery set behind the scenes in a hotel.

    Caesar salad was named after its inventor who was named Caesar Cardini, but I don’t think he was famous before he created the salad so I guess that’s not the same thing. I didn’t realize Melba toast was also named after Nellie Melba (I did know about the peaches).

    • Karen K,
      You should give it a go, I think it’s a good setting for a murder mystery. I worked as a breakfast waitress and chef (when he didn’t turn up) at the local ‘posh’ hotel when I was still at school.

      I had forgotten about Caesar salad. It could be complete nonsense about the toast, I think I just assumed that! Peach Melba was a big favourite here in the 1970s, and Black Forest gateau too – yum.

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