Can't find what you're looking for? Call us on 020 3176 3835
My basket 0
The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese

The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese

£14.99

“This is a very peculiar book,” said Daisy Goodwin in The Sunday Times. In 1980, the US journalist Gay Talese received a letter from Gerald Foos, a Colorado motel owner. Foos informed Talese that he’d installed peepholes above his motel’s bedrooms, enabling him to spy on his guests having sex. When Talese visited, Foos (pictured) took him to a viewing platform in the attic; and, through a strategically placed vent, Talese watched a couple “indulging in oral sex”. (Fortunately, they didn’t notice his necktie dangling down through the vent.) At the time, Foos refused Talese permission to publish anything about his motel. But over the next two decades, he kept the writer abreast of his activities, sending him extracts from his “voyeur’s diary”. Finally, in 2013, Foos, now long retired, agreed to go public – and Talese started work on his book. Though the result is “thoroughly uncomfortable”, it makes for “creepily fascinating reading”, said Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times. What motivated Foos, a “married man with two children”, to spy on his guests?

The Voyeur’s Motel is a work of “great moral queasiness”, said Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian. Seeing himself as a Alfred Kinsey-like figure, Foos kept meticulous notes on all he saw, recording vital statistics, sexual positions, incidence of lesbianism, and so on. He argued that, since his guests didn’t know they were being watched, his actions were harmless. Yet in his diary, which makes up “at least a third” of the book, he records witnessing numerous crimes – “rape, robbery, child abuse” – about which he did nothing. At one point, he even claims to witness a murder, which he also failed to report. However, when Talese checked with the police years later, he found “no record” of the crime. Foos, he came to realise, was unreliable; his diary was full of holes and discrepancies. A more diligent author would have investigated these, as well as questioning his own complicity. But Talese, in the end, “refuses to take any view at all”.

Other critics have enjoyed “parading their high-mindedness”, but I can only say I found The Voyeur’s Motel riveting, said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. Foos is a “mesmerising mix” of prig and perv, “forever ranting” against his guests even as he exploits them. When one calls the motel a “dump”, he “flies into a [Basil] Fawlty-like rage”. He disgustedly records others “peeing in the basin, or breaking wind” – but, of course, he has to “bite his tongue”. This “very funny” book will live in my memory long after many more “doggedly accurate” works have faded.


More from this collection