Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane

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.

Published in the UK by Arcadia Books on March 15 2014, and translated from the French by Ros Schwartz; Zenith Hotel is Oscar Coop-Phane's debut novel.

Oscar Coop-Phane's arrival on the literary scene has caused quite a stir, he won the prestigious Prix de Flore in 2012, aged just 24.  I first heard about Zenith Hotel on Twitter, lots of book bloggers and authors who I follow have read it and raved about it.  I was delighted to receive a copy from Arcadia for review.

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.

Oscar Coop-Phane was born in France 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).  Zenith Hotel was awarded the Prix de Flore in 2012.  Oscar now lives in Brussels, where he is working on his next novel.

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