Zenith Hotel – Oscar Coop-Phane

Published 15 March 2014 by Arcadia Books

Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz

From Goodreads:

Narrator Nanou, a street prostitute, 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 thoughts:

“When I wake up, my teeth feel furry. There’s a foul taste in my mouth – a nasty sort of animal taste. Still, it’s better than at night, when I have the aftertaste of other people and their filth”.

This is our introduction to Nanou who in her own words is “….a streetwalker. Not a call girl or anything like that, no, a common streetwalker with high heels and menthol cigarettes.”
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 minimalistic 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. 

My thanks for Arcadia Books for the copy to review.

About the author:

Oscar Coop-Phane was born in 1988. He left home at 16 with dreams of becoming a painter and at 20 moved to Berlin where he spent a year writing and reading classics. There he wrote Zenith Hotel and then Tomorrow, Berlin (Arcadia, 2015). He now lives in Brussels, where he is working on his next novel.


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