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 taste of other people and their filth.
Fans of Lou Reed and the Velvets will recognise the seedier side of life portrayed in Zenith Hotel. The novel is told from several viewpoints: we hear from a prostitute, Nanou, the highly sexed Robért, the psychotic ‘jailbird’ Dominic, the suicidal misanthrope, Victor, the moped-repairing, newly separated Luc and the heartbroken widow, Pio. Despite their differences, they are all connected by one thing : they sleep with Nanou.
What I loved the most about Zenith Hotel, despite its bleakness, was its absolute honesty and its refusal to bow to the reader’s demands. For example, Nanou only lets the reader so far into her rough existence, unwilling to discuss any of the seedier aspects:
I don’t intend to go into detail and tell you about my childhood, my love life and all my woes. I’m not going to tell you how I ended up like this – you’d get too much of a kick out of it. All you’re going to get is my day. If you were expecting me to talk about rape , being abandoned, HIV and heroin, you can fuck off, pervert.HIV
Zenith Hotel is refreshingly honest about how, in the most literal sense, we are absolutely alone as human beings, just as it is frank about our sexual fantasies. Emmanuel fantasises about other women when he sleeps with Estelle, when ironically, despite partaking in the closest human contact possible, Nanou maintains that we are alone even during sex:
Go on, try, get married, fuck old whores, have kids, read novels, you’ll always be alone.
Given this honesty, Zenith Hotel can be quite challenging to read at times, and some characters occasionally descend into a rant. But despite that, I found it a most engaging début .