HOTEL SPLENDID by Marie Redonnet


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 In these three slim, yet amazingly potent, novels, French author Redonnet (translated into English here for the first time) creates a triptych joined by theme, symbol, voice, style, and temperament. In the first book, Hìtel Splendid, an unnamed narrator struggles to run the family hotel, which was the epitome of convenience in her grandmother's day but now suffers daily plagues of rats, rotting wood, failing plumbing, leaky roofs, and floods and bacteria from the swamp on which it was built. If this isn't enough, she also cares for two harping sisters: Ada, the sickly one, and Adel, the failed actress. In the second novel, Forever Valley, a teenage girl, one of three inhabitants of a hamlet that lost its villagers to another valley below it, comes of age when the parish father, whom she looks after, sends her to become a prostitute in the dance hall across the road. This new independence allows her to pursue a project of looking for the dead by digging pits in the parish garden--but instead of skeletons, she discovers the water that will soon flood Forever Valley and bring electricity to the valley below. Finally, Rose Mellie Rose tells the story of Mellie, an abandoned baby raised by an old woman named Rose in a souvenir shop on a waterfall miles from the nearest town. Rose dies when Mellie turns 12; Mellie gets her period, travels to town, has sex with the truck driver who gives her a ride, discovers that she lives on an island, learns to read and write, becomes a municipal worker, marries a failing fisherman who refuses to accept that the lagoon has gone dry, gets pregnant, leaves her baby (also named Rose) in the grotto where Mellie herself was found as an infant, and, hemorrhaging, goes to the beach to die. Any reader will see that these tales have much in common. Each features a commanding female protagonist trapped in her place of origin, neither able nor wanting to escape from the home that gave her life but which now threatens to destroy her. The narrator of Hìtel Splendid never questions her doomed quest to keep the establishment running, the girl in Forever Valley leaves only when dam construction forces her to, and Mellie turns down several job offers on the continent and submits to nature's call to death. Redonnet's prose reads like the barest poetry, devoid of description, while still managing to paint vivid pictures of the rich landscapes that play a vital role in every story. Most impressively, these three tales represent an evolution of the feminine from the alienated, sexless martyr to the prostituted prepubescent on the verge of self-knowledge to the self-loving, self-determined Mellie, who dies to give her baby a chance at a better life. To her credit, Redonnet packs these jewels with much more: highly personal images of utopia, the importance of heritage, the necessity of burying the dead to approach the future. Like traveling a very long, very dark tunnel into a blinding, bright, beautiful light.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8032-8953-7
Page count: 123pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994


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