Hotel Crystal

By OLIVIER ROLIN

Hotels are incubators of restlessness and dreams. They prick the occupant’s mind with their unfamiliar environments — which, by extension, loosen the collar of identity. Olivier Rolin’s Hotel Crystal makes playful use of this notion by exploring one man’s attempt to recall all of the hotel rooms in which he has ever resided. The novel’s chapters typically begin with a detailed description of a room, followed by a far-out, frequently droll anecdote about events that transpired therein. The Zelig-like protagonist, who shares the same name as the novel’s author, is a writer who moonlights as a spy, arms dealer, smuggler, tutor to fallen monarchs, and consultant to the likes of economic wizards such as Alan Greenspan. Alas, perhaps due to his more dangerous exploits, or weariness with life, “Olivier Rolin” is unable to bring his project to a conclusion. After he goes missing, an acquaintance chances upon his recollections, which have been jotted down on disparate pieces of stationery. She turns these over to a group of editors, who collate the work and embellish it with amusingly pointy-headed footnotes. This smart, madcap book is ideal for the inveterate traveler as well as for anyone who enjoys academic farces (especially when punctuated with things such as a hijacking of the Mars landing probe, the manipulation of a Vatican insider, and an attempt to purchase a literary prize — aborted because the funds required for that purchase are stolen by “Rolin” to pay off terrorist kidnappers).