In this witty puzzler of a novel by Olivier Rolin (translated by Jane Kuntz), a traveler with the same name as the author begins each chapter with a description of a different hotel room he's stayed in around the world. These, in turn, become occasions for Rolin (or 'Rolin'?) to tell us of his adventures as a globe-trotting amateur spy and dashing lover. Frenchman Rolin engages in literary game-playing in Hotel Crystal, crossing influences such as Vladimir Nabokov and Georges Perec.”
Rolin's mastery of language, along with his rich perceptions of locale and the human psyche, rewards a reader willing to attend.
Olivier Rolin once again made the bet of a radical invention. And he filled his contract. Superbly.
Using a Georges Perec line about memory as his point of departure, Rolin, a French journalist and accomplished novelist (Port-Soudan, Tigre en papier), has fashioned in forensic detail a travelogue of hotel rooms around the globe. From Room 308 in the "Polar Hotel" of Khatanga, Russia, to Room 8 in the Au Bon Accueil in Saint-Nazaire, France, another "Olivier Rolin" scribbled these brief, diarylike accounts on scraps of paper to be discovered before he supposedly disappeared for good. Along with the exact measurements of the room, descriptions of furnishings-especially the mirrors, in which he notes his reflection-the missing narrator offers clues about himself; he does some underhanded dealing with a smalltime Russian crook, Gricha; he drops literary allusions, from Homer to Malcolm Lowry; and he likes women, frequently using his rooms as trysting spots. It seems as though he could be embroiled in an international Machiavellian plot. In the end, he pines for one unattainable woman, Mélanie Melbourne, who scolds him because he can't remember the room that signifies their "impossible life together," Room 211 of the Hotel Crystal, in Nancy, France. Rolin's arch antinovel works as a kind of jokester hall of mirrors or a playful, literary roman policier. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Visions of Italo Calvino's seminal postmodernist romp Invisible Cities arise as the reader enters the cleverly fabricated world of this novel, originally published in French in 2004, from Rolin (Paper Tiger, 2007, etc.). The book's modus operandi is explained in a mock-editorial foreword declaring that "each [chapter] describes a hotel room in minute detail . . . then goes on to relate an anecdote involving the author and this particular location." Thus protagonist and narrator "Olivier Rolin" trots around the globe fulfilling miscellaneous diplomatic and criminal missions, indulging varied sophisticated tastes, including gratifying dalliances with often exotic, occasionally dangerous women-a blissful exception being his "ever-endangered" girlfriend Melanie. Our antihero gets awfully cozy with "discount dictators" trafficking in WMDs and other bad stuff, but he's basically an amiable thrill seeker who prefers uninterrupted creature comforts to inconvenient derring-do. Individual episodes offer differing degrees of smash-mouth action and risibility. It's hard to top an adventure in Helsinki where Olivier recovers from "a brawl over the interpretation of the Sibelius concerto for violin in D minor with some sailors in a bar." But we are treated to a Catholic plot to convert Muslims by bombarding them with "religious trinkets"; a Siberian scheme to clone mammoths from prehistoric DNA and sell the hybrid beasts to U.S. theme parks; a weird rescue operation accomplished in Hanoi's Natural History Museum; and an eye-popping sex scene performed under a table in a Montreal restaurant. An extra dimension emerges in Olivier's pilgrimages to locales associated with favorite writers, and due homageis paid to such prankish experimentalists as countrymen Boris Vian, Henri Michaux and Georges Perec (who, the foreword explains, was this book's major inspiration). Elegant fun, and one of the most enjoyable "serious" novels in many seasons.