HÔTEL SPLENDID by marie redonnet and SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL by gilbert sorrentino

these two take their title from the first poem of rimbaud’s ILLUMINATIONS [“And the Hôtel-Splendide was built in the chaos of ice and polar night.”]

HÔTEL SPLENDID is one of marie redonnet’s trilogy of death — the others are FOREVER VALLEY and ROSE MELLIE ROSE. i haven’t read the last, but like FOREVER VALLEY, HÔTEL SPLENDID is a thin book packed with modern anxiety in an oddly proto-modern setting. this time we’re in a rustic hotel set amidst a sucking, sulfuric swamp. less effective for me i think than FOREVER VALLEY (possibly because the hotel is a more familiar device and thus more in danger of being used as a cliche) HÔTEL SPLENDID was still impressive for its accumulative feeling of anxiety. its main character’s desperate attempt to keep up the rotting, leaking building as well as attend to her sisters ailments and hostilities, was perfect allegory for the burden of all our constant anxieties: bourgeois real estate phobias, hypochondria and contagion paranoia, and the melancholy in seeing the flesh’s various evidence of its encroaching age.

redonnet’s work is particularly virtuosic with time. time contracts and leaps in her writing. within a paragraph, between sentences, we can oddly jump weeks and then linger for pages on a single incident only to pass through a night in a phrase’s brief flourish. the effect is somewhat like reading an irregular diary — quickpenned and intense during moments of drama but languishing for long trials or spurted into with a feverish insight. and yet also her writing undercuts this diary-like inconsistency with its repeating, inescapable and unchanging obsessions. maybe a better comparison than diary is the fever dream, which moves forward in jumpcuts and then traps you in over-hot, looping nightmare scenes.

sorrentino’s SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL is a beautiful artwork of prose, constructed with just the slightest bits of conceit and image: the idea of rimbaud’s hotel and an alphabet primer (and maybe doc williams’ wheel barrow). from these he plays riffs on his favorite themes: the necessary artifice of literary work, our ceaseless acts of corruption, a paradoxically unsentimental nostalgia for mid-century america. i always thought SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL was ever-so-slightly marred by its occasional interluding poems which, even in his parodic modes, necessarily fall short in comparison to his dazzling sentences. nonetheless sorrentino delivers some of his best work here. the paragraphs are a wonder of shifting and connected precise perceptions; he’s enormously funny — a pitch black humor; and the sentences that have that old world panache so one can’t help but think: they don’t make them like that anymore…

here’s a bit:

B-b-b-b-b. The sound an idiot makes. I remember Jo-Jo, ah, a perfect idiot name. A Mongoloid, shuffling down the street on the arm of his grey and faded Irish mother, punching himself in the face. Yet we all stand now as idiots in the face of the mass devastation of feeling that abounds. A culture that can give no sustenance, and yet the remedies are for still more “useful skills.” Useful skills, and the heart dies, the imagination crippled so that mere boys are become mass murderers or drift blindly into a sterile adulthood. The young, the young! In a stupendous rage of nonbelief–faced with a spurious culture, the art that can give life sullied or made unavailable. What art there is is cheap and false, dedicated to a quick assay of the superficial. Don’t believe for a moment that art is a decoration or an emblem. It is what life there is left, though ill-used, ill-used. The young crying for nourishment, and they are given the cynical products of the most fickle market. “Look at what passes for the new,” the poet says. Put a handle on it and sell it, cotton candy: to be gone in a moment and leave no memory other than the memory of sickening sweetness (p. 9).

buy redonnet’s HÔTEL SPLENDID from its publisher

buy sorrentino’s SPLENDIDE-HÔTEL from its publisher.

FOREVER VALLEY by marie redonnet

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this slim volume’s a revelation. an understated experimental novel. its perfection has something to do with this pared-down style, where the details are few but exquisite. at first it seems like a quaint country narrative, it then soon reveals itself to be something more–perhaps an allegorical tale. but in the end, while maintaining some of the aspects of allegory, none of FOREVER VALLEY’s symbols map completely to ideas or reality as much as they manage to point uncannily back at themselves.

Interviewer: Reading the triptych, one sometimes catches a glimpse of something like a rigorous structure…

Redonnet: What you call structure or composition is indeed a determining factor. Each book adheres to a rigorous structure, at the same time mathematical, architectural, and musical, which transforms itself from book to book: the elements multiply, the combinatorial system grows richer, space and thus mobility becomes more important, the story grows more complex. This structure is part of the language that I invented for myself in order to write, a language built from a lexical and syntactic emptiness that I had to impose on language. Maybe this very idea of structure takes the place of that lost rhetoric, becoming a means of generating another language, and thus another history.

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and elsewhere about images and cinema’s relationship to writing:

The reader creates the film of the story as he or she reads, a private cinema. This requires a release of the imagination if the book is not to remain forever closed to the reader… [T]he fact that the image is born of the power of language alone means that it is not only an image, but also a thought that creates meaning.

I would like that to be my revenge as a writer, at a time when we are entering into a culture of the all-powerful image, which threatens to kill literature: to invent a language that would be capable, by liberating the vital forces of imagination and thought, of resisting the images– seductive, manipulative, stultifying, alienating — that invade us from all sides.

the above quotes from the interview provided in FOREVER VALLEY–the latter and a bit more about redonnet found at Dennis Cooper’s blog.
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part of a triptych, the other two are: HOTEL SPLENDID and ROSE MELIE ROSE

a bibliography.

buy from the publisher or find it at the library.

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