I’m finishing off Translation Week for Novellas in November with two mini-reviews – Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet, translated by Jordan Stump and Fear by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell and Alexander Starritt (which I read for German Literature Month).
Hotel Splendid by Marie Redonnet
Even if it is not what it was, it’s the only hotel in the region. Grandmother was a pioneer. No one had ever had the idea of building a hotel so near the swamp.
In Hotel Splendid, an unnamed narrator struggles to run the family hotel, which was the epitome of glamour and convenience when it was run by her grandmother, but now suffers daily issues. The roof is falling apart, the structures are riddled with woodworm and the pipes need constant attention. There are rats, cockroaches, dead flies, but worst of all are the toilets – forever becoming blocked no matter what is done. On top of this, the narrator looks after her two lazy sisters – Ada, forever sickly, and Adel, the failed actress. All these problems are exacerbated by the floods and bacteria coming from the swamp, once the hotel’s selling point, now it’s agent of destruction.
There are few guest and those that do stay are men who are working nearby on the swamp – railway workers, geologists and business men – all intent on laying a railway across this desolate landscape. The railway is seen by the narrator as the future of the Hotel, just the thing to make it truly splendid again.
Redonnet has been likened to Beckett and it’s easy to see why. The narrative, which is skillfully translated by Jordan Stump is repetitive and rambling, focusing in detail on its main character’s desperate attempt to fix this rotting building as well as looking after her sisters needs. The hotel’s fortunes rise with each group of work men that arrives, only to fall when they leave and all the time the swamp encroaches more and more upon the very hotel itself. Like Beckett’s characters, the narrator never gives up hope that one day the Hotel Splendid will be a beacon of hospitality, even when everything is falling down around her and the daily strain is wearing her out.
Redonnet’s writing feels less nihilistic though, and her narrator comes across as indominable no matter how misconceived she might be, clinging on to hope, even when life is hopeless. There is some wonderful dark humour to enliven the endless drudgery and while the narrator’s endurance may be misguided, but she endures all the same in this strange but powerful short book.
read on: book
number read: 352
number remaining: 394
Fear by Stefan Zweig
Her whole life was undermined by her devouring fear, her body was poisoned and in her heart she really longed for her sickness to break out in visible pain, some kind of obvious, perceptible clinical condition, something that those around her would understand and pity.
Fear opens as Irene, a young married woman, is leaving her lover’s apartment, suffering the regular pangs of guilt that drive her back to her comfortable bourgeois existence as the wife of a judge and mother of two children. She has started the affair out of boredom because she feels that ‘there was no opposition anywhere in her life’. Opposition of a different sort arrives as Irene is accosted by a woman who accuses her of stealing her man and asking for money to keep the affair a secret.
Suddenly Irene is thrown into a state of intense fear, waiting at all moments for her life to come crashing down round her, a state that only intensifies as the blackmail demands become larger and larger.
Plot-wise Fear is relatively formulaic and at times veers into melodrama, but what Zweig does well is to capture the intense, overwhelming and all-consuming fear that has taken over Irene’s rather sedate life. Faced with the chance that she will lose her family and her respectability, Irene is pushed to the brink.
Every moment of her life, whether inside her home or away from it, brings her terror and Zweig’s writing is infused with this sense of fear. A party with family friends ends in frenzied dancing and barely concealed guilt while any walk outside of her home is fraught with the chance of meeting her blackmailer. Her fear is both understandable and irrational. Zweig’s conclusion to this short tale can be seen coming for quite a while and doesn’t sit particularly well with what has gone before, but Fear is an atmospheric and driving exploration of our most primal of emotions.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!