I didn’t really know what to expect going in to Zenith Hotel. I had seen a lot of people talking about it on Twitter, and I was keen to read it, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book about a prostitute in Paris.
Nanou is the prostitute in question, and Zenith Hotel is, quite simply, the story of a day in her life. She lives in a grubby hotel, and wakes up each day with nasty taste in her mouth, but she has no desire to change her life. This isn’t a book about redemption, or a fairytale about a sex worker changing her life. It is is simply the story of Nanou’s day.
Interspersed with Nanou’s writing are the stories of her clients. Each client has their own story, and they are connected only by the fact that they pay the same woman for sex. That, and they are all lonely and isolated. Coop-Phane shows that there is a commonality in loneliness; people feel so alone, and don’t realise that in their loneliness, they are connected to others. Each man is given merely a chapter to tell his story, and yet each character feels as fully fleshed out and developed as if they were given an entire book.
The most interesting thing to me was the way Paris was portrayed. This is not the glamorous city that you know from films and photos, and nor is it the bohemian paradise you may think you know. It’s a seedy, dirty and grubby place that is so at odds with the usual portrayal of the city.
Oscar Coop-Phane was just twenty when he wrote Zenith Hotel, and the language is just gorgeous. My favourite passage is this one, on bereavement:
“The main thing was to live with it, like a parasite that you feed with your own blood. It sucks at you, but it’s better to let it drink a few drops of blood than to chase it away and have it harrow you to the bone in retaliation…You won’t get over it, all your life there’ll be this gaping wound deep in your heart. But don’t worry. It won’t stop beating.”
Simply stunning prose, and it felt as though he was speaking directly to me. That’s pretty high praise as far as I’m concerned.
Zenith Hotel is a very short book, and definitely one that can be read in one sitting. At just shy of 100 pages, it manages to pack an awful lot into a very short book.
* I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes by Arcadia Books