on 18 October 2014
The lives of several Parisians are linked together through the use of local prostitute, Nanou.
I really wanted to like this story. I had read so many great reviews about it. It was dark, gritty and was set in Paris. And ok, having had a lifelong love affair with France’s capital, I was willing to see it in a less than glamorous way. However, I didn’t get any of that. The setting could have been anywhere. There was no seedy underbelly of the specific location. The Arrondissements just merged into one.
The story itself thinly hangs together by the encounters with the prostitute Nanou. I think the main problem that I had with the text is my original problem with short stories; they feel underdeveloped. This is especially the case with Zenith Hotel. If Coop-Phane had just stuck with the protagonist and one punter then maybe the story would have felt a bit more developed.
I understand that the technique of having a few bit characters emphasises the lonely life of prostitution and the isolation that Nanou feels on a aily basis. I just don’t think it necessarily worked as a short story.
Furthermore, I don’t think that we, as readers, were able to empathise with Nanou. She is very one dimensional and the further into the story we got, the less we seemed to know about her. She didn’t develop. The story didn’t develop and neither did my liking of Zenith Hotel.
I was very disappointed.
Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane is available now.
on 14 March 2014
Zenith hotel is quite literally, the smallest novel I have ever read. Around the size of a small pocket guide book, Zenith hotel could be read comfortably in one sitting by the slowest of readers. That's not to say it's a short story - it isn't. Neither is it a Novella. Zenith hotel is a novel, of tiny proportions which tells a unique story.
Zenith hotel is a gritty account of real life on the streets of Paris. There is no romantic talk of the river seine or the Eiffel tower, here we see the real Paris, from the eyes of prostitute Nanou and her many clients. Nanou does not want us to feel sorry for her, she is not ashamed of who she is, or what she does, she just wants to tell her story.
A story that evolves over the course of one day, Nanou's day. A normal day in the life of a street prostitute. Nanou's clients are sprinkled in to the story here and there, we don't get to hear what Nanou thinks of them, we see only their background, so that we can try and figure out how and why they end up with Nanou.
Nanou's clients all seem to have one thing in common with her - other than sex, and that is loneliness. Although they all have companionship in different ways, from wife's to dying pets, they are all lonely, including Nanou herself.
Is this why she does what she does? We don't know as this is never addressed.
It's clear that she needs the money, and that prostitution is all she has ever known. But how exactly did she end up there? It's a question you will find yourself wondering the answer to, long after you have finished the novel.
This little book (just under 100 pages) certainly packs a punch and what it lacks in size it makes up for in content. The writing is brutally honest and raw - there is no sugar coating or flowery words here. We see a snapshot of Nanou's day, from her time spent in her squalid rented room to when she is out walking the street of Paris; instead of the familiar tourist destination that we know, Nanou describes the seedy and unglamorous side to the city. We know of the mundane details and routine of her daily life, for example, the local café owner Jeannot who thinks she now prefers to go to a competitor simply because she no longer goes to him for her morning caffeine hit. In truth she is also desperate for a cigarette but can no longer smoke in his café so has to get her coffee elsewhere. We are then with her again at night when she finally crawls into her bed, alone with her thoughts. She tells of her self loathing and of how much she dislikes her life but wouldn't want to live anyone else's.
Much of the narration is by Nanou's clients, each one telling their own story of their often sad and lonely lives. At the end of their story, there is just a glimpse of their interaction with Nanou. Again, the writing is pure and minimalist and with just a few short pages the characters are bought to life.
In all honesty this is probably not a book that would have come to my attention nor one that I would have sought out but it was an excellent read and I am so glad that Arcadia sent it to me. I do sometimes find that translated text can feel disjointed and `clunky' but this one reads perfectly - excellent work by the translator, Ros Schwartz.
on 10 March 2014
Firstly thank you so much to Arcadia Books for sending me a copy of this. I was so excited to see one of my blogger friends have a mention on the jacket of this copy too!
This is the first of the books that Arcadia have sent me that I’ve read and it will not be the last. I wanted to broaden my reading horizons and this story has certainly done that. It is also the first book that I’ve read, as far as I’m aware, that has been translated from a different language.
I love that it was originally in French as I can remember reading the French play “Huis Clos” during high school. The play looks at a different story line, although some points regarding the loneliness of the characters despite being surrounded by others (like Nanou and her clients) strikes the same note as Zenith Hotel.
The story is told from and about street prostitute Nanou. It is a diary of a day in her life which really just sets the pace of the whole story. It’s not a flowery romantic account of a prostitute’s life that has a happy ending so you shouldn’t expect that. It draws a picture of the harsh reality which rather than face head on we are happy to be ignorant about because it’s not happening to us.
The story tells of how the other half live, the poverty that people face and the devastating circumstances that go on in people’s lives which we know, or want to know, nothing about. The story is raw and fueled by loneliness but also acknowledges the freedom to be found in solitude. It’s a testament to the talent of the author, who has painted this picture of real life at a young age with the grace of a person who has an abundance of life/world experience.
If you are looking, like me, to try something different then this quick read is for you, it allows you dip your toes into the pool of unease, of the unknown and of the real world.
on 10 March 2014
4.5 of 5 stars
I was sent a copy of this book in pdf format by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
This is the tale of Nanou, a street prostitute, writing down the details of her day. It is interspersed with pages detailing the background of the clients she encounters on that day, each with his own story to tell. Nanou doesn't seek sympathy, she has come to accept her lot in life, believing herself to be worth nothing more and resigned to the fact that this is her lot in life until the end.
This is a short novel, one easily read in a spare hour or two but one which will stay with you for much longer. It may be short on word count but each word used is perfectly placed and utilised to its full potential. This is not a light-hearted read. It's gritty, dark and bittersweet. Whilst we as readers can feel some pity or sorry for Nanou and her clients there is also some ray of hope - at least for the men in the story in that Nanou brings some form of comfort to their otherwise lonely or sad lives.
This is, at it's simplest, a beautifully written tale, giving a brief glimpse into lives we normally try to forget exist. Brutal, explicit and honest, Zenith Hotel goes beyond the glamour of Paris to show an unseen society, hidden from view by our own blindness to it.
Comments have been made and praise has been given about how young Oscar Coop-Phane was when he wrote this Prix de Flore winning novel (he was in his early 20s). However I think it should simply be applauded that anyone, at any age, can write with such sensitivity, insight and feeling.
on 1 April 2014
I was totally gripped by Zenith Hotel and I'm still thinking about it.
The author, Oscar Coop-Phane, moved to Berlin for a year when he was 20. In that year he read the classics and wrote Zenith Hotel (published by Arcadia Books in 2014) and Tomorrow, Berlin, which will be published by Aracdia Books in 2015.
Zenith Hotel won the prestigious Prix de Flore prize in France. It is translated into English by Ros Schwartz.
This novel isn't a big book in terms of length but it's big in terms of the themes it covers, and in it's ambition.
Nanou is our narrator,a street prostitute who lives in a squalid flat in Zenith Hotel. She writes about her clients as well as giving us an in depth description about her life. In the tender and gritty portraits we meet the lost,the disconnected, those who feel defeated from the world -all who find sanctuary and solace in her arms.
There is a deep melancholic thread that runs through all these portraits , including Nanou herself, who despite not having to get up for the 5am commute or dealing with a lecherous boss, wakes up with a stale taste in her mouth and loathes herself.
Oscar Coopl-Phane has described the lives of those who live in the backstreets of Paris, with a tenderness and sensibility far beyond his years. His sparse but rich prose reveals a world not often described in fiction. It's a thought-provoking, elegant and powerful novel. Well worth reading!
Zenith Hotel is hard to define, it's not a novel in the traditional sense, it's not a novella, nor is it a short story. It's a glimpse into a life. Set in Paris and featuring prostitue Nanou and some of her clients; this is not the exotic and glamorous Paris that we usually read about. This is the dark, the seedy, the dangerous. Nanou pulls no punches, nor does she ask for or expect sympathy. She does not try to hide what she is. She is a street-whore, plain and simple. Her daily life is described in explicit details, almost emotionless at times, with no glossing over the dirt, the smells, the squalor.
And Nanou's clients; fascinating in their own mundane way. Men who are lonely, sad, maybe mad? Nanou performs a service, she is brutally honest about it. In order to convince anyone else that there is more to these encounters than just sex, Nanou would first have to fool herself. Nanou is no fool.
A tiny book of just under 100 pages, please find yourself a quiet spot and savour this in one sitting. It is an incredible piece of writing, cleverly constructed with characters and settings that are startling in their descriptions.
on 8 March 2014
I was sent this book from Arcadia publishers in exchange for a honest review.
I took this with me away for the weekend, it is relatively short so I thought I would be able to finish it in one sitting, which I did.
This is not my usual read, I don't think I would have chosen it, if it had been on offer, however I was pleasantly surprised.
We are given a snap shop of a day in the life of Nanou, a Parisian prostitute, there is nothing sleazy about the book. Just the loneliness of her life and those of her clients. We hear from all her clients that day and this as she puts it herself is the same day after day.
The story jumps between her clients thoughts and her own, there is brief speech between the clients and Nanou. All the characters in the book are well written and developed well, throughout the book.
I believe that this gives an insight into Parisian life which is not so glamorous and stylish. I think that this should be part of everyone's TBR pile.
For a young man, Oscar Coop-Phane packs quite a punch with his writing - accomplished yes, you could almost believe that this is a writer who has been doing this for years - but also emotive, fascinating and with an insight into his characters that is second to none.
This is a uniquely human story, with a solitary, pragmatic soul at the heart of it, simply telling us about her day. The people she encounters, the raw side of humanity, with some little gems of purely poetic insight into the things that drive us. Set against the backdrop of a Paris unseen by most, this truly is a most amazing debut.
I read this in one sitting, immersed in that world, barely breathing - it hooks you straight in, holds you there until you emerge with a vague sense of wanting something you are not quite sure of. These are the moments readers read for..
One word. Wonderful.
*with thanks to Arcadia books**
on 15 March 2014
A short novel that punches way above it's weight, Zenith Hotel is a worthy winner of the Prix de Flore. It seems that the UK market is getting a ridiculous number of quite brilliant French novels lately. This is no exception. A deeply bleak portrayal of a day in the life of Nanou seen through both her own eyes and through the live of the losers who are her clients. Nanou is a prostitute, nothing fancy, not a tart with a heart; simply a common streetwalker. She lives alone and, despite hating her life, she cannot feel anything but contempt for the ordinary 9-5 lives of 'normal' people. This is rather a depressing read, and about as bleak as it could get, but well worth a read if you want to experience a bit of Parisian grit.