The White Hotel

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The White Hotel
The White Hotel (D. M. Thomas novel).jpg
Cover of the first US edition
Author D. M. Thomas
Country Great Britain
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
January 1981
Media type Print
Pages 240 pp
ISBN 0-575-02889-0

The White Hotel is a novel written by the English poet, translator and novelist D. M. Thomas. It was first published in January 1981 by Gollancz in Great Britain and in March 1981 by The Viking Press in the United States. It won the 1981 Cheltenham Prize.[1] It was also short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1981,[2] coming a close second, in the view of some.[3]


Set in 1919, the book's first three movements consist of the erotic fantasies and case history of an imagined female patient of Sigmund Freud, Frau Anna G, a semi-successful opera singer referred to him for analysis[4] and treatment of chronic psychosomatic pains in her left breast and ovary. Freud attempts to identify some incident in her past that would explain these pains, and elicits from her a long erotic narrative – called "Don Giovanni", because she had written it on this musical score – in verse and then prose. Freud draws inferences from the incidents described and discusses these with his patient, with Anna notably deducing that her father may have been unfaithful to her mother with her twin sister (Anna G's aunt). Anna is an unreliable narrator, changing key details in the account of her life she offers Freud. Only late in the treatment does she reveal that she considers herself to have second sight. Freud does not consider the possibility that either her erotic journal or her pains might arise from an incident in not her past, but her future.

Following inconclusive treatment, Frau Anna G – revealed to be Elisabeth (Lisa) Erdman of Vienna – pursues a moderately successful musical career and marries a Russian Jewish opera singer, with whom she moves to Kiev in the 1920s. When he disappears in a Communist purge, she falls upon hard times and the third movement is set in 1941, when German troops capture Kiev. Lisa and her young son are ordered, along with the city's Jews, to Babi Yar.

An other-worldly ("in Palestine or Purgatory", according to the author) epilogue ends the narrative.


A number of efforts have been made to make the novel into a film, which some have described as unfilmable[5] or unadaptable. These have included attempts by Bernardo Bertolucci with Barbra Streisand, by David Lynch with Isabella Rossellini, by Simon Monjack with Brittany Murphy, and by Emir Kusturica with Nicole Kidman.[6]

In 1992, London artist Maty Grunberg created a portfolio "Don Giovanni" (woodcuts, limited edition); text - "Don Giovanni", the opening poem of the book.

In August 2018, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation of Dennis Potter's screenplay, produced by Jon Amiel, producer of Potter's earlier The Singing Detective, with author Thomas's reminiscences about the book's publication and various film proposals.[7][8] The BBC production starred Anne-Marie Duff as Lisa and Bill Paterson as Dr Probst.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Book awards: Cheltenham Prize". LibraryThing. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2011-01-21. 
  3. ^ The narrative is told principally in the form of an erotic journal, letters between the female narrator and a fictionalized Sigmund Freud, and Freud's case history analysis of the narrator.
  4. ^ Clute and Grant 1997, p. 943.
  5. ^ Greatest Films Never Made
  6. ^ Vanity Fair The White Hotel, Brittany Murphy's Cursed, Unmade Project DECEMBER 21, 2009
  7. ^ Brown, Mark (3 August 2018). "Dennis Potter's adaptation of The White Hotel to premiere on Radio 4". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 September 2018. 
  8. ^ BBC The six weirdest movies which almost got made "Despite numerous attempts, D.M. Thomas’s harrowing novel “The White Hotel” has never been filmed, earning itself a reputation as “one of the great unadaptable works of modern literature”. Due to a staggeringly unlucky sequence of lawsuits, creative differences, bankruptcy, bombings and untimely deaths, the film has remained in pre-production for decades, attracting – and then losing – stars such as Meryl Streep, Isabella Rossellini, Juliette Binoche and Nicole Kidman along the way. Undeterred, the BBC has brought Dennis Potter’s 30-year-old screenplay to life as a Radio 4 drama."
  9. ^ "Radio 4 presents the world premiere dramatisation of The White Hotel". BBC. 4 August 2018. Retrieved 15 September 2018. 

External links[edit]