Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane

The blurb:

I’m a street prostitute. Not a call girl or anything. No, a real street whore, with stiletto heels and menthol cigarettes.’ Narrator Nanou gives a detailed account of her day, from the moment she wakes up with a foul taste in her mouth, in her sordid rented room, until the minute she crawls back into her bed at night to sleep.

Interwoven with her story are portraits of her clients. Oscar Coop-Phane invents an astonishing cast of original and deeply human characters – losers, defeated by the world around them – who seek solace in Nanou’s arms.

Original and moving, this short book deftly paints a world of solitude and sadness, illuminated by precious moments of tenderness and acts of kindness.

My review:

This is a short book (97 pages) translated from French. It is very different to anything I have read before. The author is incredibly talented in being able to portray the characters so well in such a short book.

We are introduced to Nanou who openly admits from the start to being a prostitute, not a high end hooker, but a street walker. We are introduced her world which appears to be very lonely, bare and sad. The book is written as Nanou keeping a notebook, revealing very brief snippets of her life, but I do mean brief. Nanou says from the outset that she doesn't want to reveal anything about herself and her life, and as you look back at the book you will see that she hasn't.

The skill of the author in tellng Nanou's story via clients is very very clever. I felt a real sense of sadness and warmth towards her. I felt that her life was quite sordid and that she was very lonely but stuck without a way out. The brief snippets eluded, in my view, to quite a tough upbringing without the love and support to give her a decent go at life.

I was fascinated by the stories of Nanou's clients. It definitely challenged by perception of the type of man who used the services of a prostitute and I was really drawn in by the stories and sadness within their lives. They really make the book. It's a bit like being a fly on the wall in these men's life and seeing how behind their public masks they all, like Nanou, are sad and feel like key things to make them happy are missing. I felt desperately sad both for Nanou and the men. They were all, Nanou included, looking for happiness, but seemed unable to find it. The act of sex seemed like a mechanical outlet for the men rather than the feeling of intimacy, love and warmth that sex should bring. I also sensed the disgust and feeling of self loathing that Nanou felt towards herself.

What a fantastic book by a very skilled author. I felt so sad to leave her in the Zenith Hotel and wanted to write a final chapter where the knight in shining armour comes in and rescues her, just like in pretty woman. The book is a stark reminder of what women go through every day, invisible to most of society, and looked down on by those that do see them, and judge them without knowing anything about them or their lives.

Thank you to Arcadia for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest review.


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