Zenith Hotel

zenith hotelPublished: 2014
Author: Oscar Coop-Phane

An intriguing snapshot of the sordid side of Paris


I don’t like Paris. I like the Musee D’Orsay, I like Disneyland and I’d like to visit Versailles. The rest of it can jump in the Seine for all I care. I’m possibly the only person I know not to buy into the idea of Paris as the glamorous city of love. I think I’m resistant to the hype about the place and always enjoy a representation of Paris that doesn’t play to the expected norms. That may be why I enjoyed Oscar Coop-Phane’s lovely little book Zenith Hotel.

Narrator Nanou is a prostitute plying her trade in a seedy part of town. She’s not a Pretty Woman type, waiting for the love of a good (rich) man to save her from a life on the streets. Nor is she a tart-with-a-heart who has a soft spot for her pleasant customers. Nanou is a sad, lonely woman living a squalid little life servicing sad, lonely men. Zenith Hotel is a slim volume, a snapshot into one day in Nanou’s life and an introduction to her clients. We meet a number of customers and have a brief insight into their lives. A thread of loneliness runs through all of the stories and brings all of the characters together.

In only 98 pages Coop-Phine creates a fully rounded world with sympathetic characters. I wouldn’t have imagined that I would feel empathy towards the men who frequent prostitutes but Coop-Phane’s story is utterly compelling and creates a sense of sympathy towards Nanou and her clients rather than the disgust you would expect. The writing is beautiful and the story compelling. It offers a wonderful little portrait of the lives of people not normally represented in literature – the lonely, the pathetic, the ones we would not even notice if we passed them on the street.

The snapshot element of the story is both a positive and negative. We only ever drop into the characters’ lives for a brief time and as a result of this transitory visit, we do not get to know them. Even Nanou remains distant to the reader, her own experiences and thoughts taking up around half the book. I’m sure this will appeal to many readers, however I prefer to know a little more about characters in order to develop a bond with them. I want to know if the old man’s dog died or the school administrator’s wife ever discovered his secret. I like closure and I didn’t get it from Zenith Hotel.

For me this was a beautifully written, moving and unique story and I liked it a lot, it was just too unfinished for me to love it.

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