Violet Armengard never thinks of her extraordinary beauty as anything other than a nuisance. That is until she ends up broke and alone in Paris, discarded by both her husband and the tennis star she sleeps with in an attempt to ease the hurt of her disastrous marriage.
Through a series of chance encounters in hotel lobbies, Violet finds herself an object of interest to men rich enough to know the price of everything, including the privilege of bedding supremely beautiful women. As her addiction to grand hotels and haute couture takes hold, she convinces herself that she is only doing what women have done for millennia – trading sex for life’s little luxuries.
But then she meets Florin, a man with an unknowable past, who leads her further into a world where human feeling is a negotiable commodity and sex is as much about power as it is pleasure.
Brilliantly observed and darkly erotic, The Woman in the Lobby is a provocative and compulsively readable novel about the intriguing possibilities of separating sex and love.
The marble and gilt lobby of the Hotel Metropolitain is full of aimless souls looking for a little diversion. It’s the devil’s hour, cocktail hour, when men are apt to stray from their intended paths.
Sooner or later one of them will stray my way.
I am sitting on a sofa by an arrangement of lilies. I’m very poised, a respectable woman waiting… for an assignation, perhaps? No, it’s a little late for cinq a sept, unless one is very quick, so perhaps I am waiting for my husband for an anniversary drink? A meal in the hotel’s overpriced dining room followed by a night of rekindled passion amid the Frette sheets? Or else I am meeting a woman friend – or two – whereupon we will retire to the bar for a night of character assassination (husbands, bosses, other girlfriends, Olivier Martinez) and a little harmless flirting.
Waiting is what I am doing – and tonight I may not have to wait so long. The lobby is full of prospects. It is check-in time for businessmen who have caught the afternoon flight, from London, Brussels, Frankfurt, Milan, Dubai… places that have the sound of money to them.
Some of them are busy with porters, others yell into phones. A few lug thick briefcases to the elevator bank, eager for the mini bar. Some of these will shower and come back to the lobby, the musk of their anticipation stronger than even the citrus of their over-applied cologne.
I’ll be here.
“With The Bride Stripped Bare candour – but much more fun along the way – we follow Violet Armengard, a 30-year-old divorcee who joins the ranks of women who trade their guile, beauty and bodies for the luxury life in Europe’s grand hotels. Tulloch somehow manages to write dispassionately about passion and thus transforms the many sexual liaisons in these pages into revelations of character. Her prose is studded with insights gathered over a lifetime of people watching… Mentored in her new lifestyle by Florin – one of those characters you’d love to have at a dinner party, but would hate to see date your best friend – Violet’s pursuit of hedonism takes her into arms, hearts and beds worldwide. It also makes her not only a master of betrayal but seemingly anaesthetised to its consequences. Of course, neither can last and it’s this unravelling that gives way to punch-in-the-guts substance and moral complexity. You’ll never look at a five-star lobby in the same way again.”
“Quite an achievement… Tulloch shows us the world through the eyes of someone who has become a luxury item herself and whose shelf-life is reaching its end-date…Tulloch is skilled enough as a storyteller to keep the story moving despite using the present tense, which can slow a book’s pace to glacial. She switches between first and third person, keeping enough authorial distance to give an intelligent, global perspective on the luxuries and protocols of people-trading. It isn’t easy to depict shallowness without moralising. Letting things speak for themselves artfully is an art that Tulloch masters here."