These three short novels are the first works to appear in English by a remarkable contemporary French author, Marie Redonnet. Born in Paris in 1947, Redonnet taught for a number of years in a suburban lycée before deciding to pursue a writing career full time. Since her volume of poetry Le Mort & Cie appeared in 1985, she has published four novels, a novella, numerous short stories, and three dramatic works.
In translator Jordan Stump's words, these three novels, "unmistakably fit together, although they have neither characters nor setting in common. Redonnet sees the three novels as a triptych: each panel stands alone, and yet all coalesce to form a whole." Each is narrated by a different woman. Hôtel Splendid recounts the daily life of three sisters who live in a decrepit hotel on the edge of a swamp; Forever Valley is about a sixteen-year-old girl who works in a dance-hall and looks for the dead; Rose Mellie Rose is the story of another adolescent girl who assembles a photographic and written record of her life in the dying town of Ôat.
Redonnet's novels have been compared to those of Annie Ernaux, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Samuel Beckett. She has since acknowledged the crucial influence which Beckett's work has had upon her literary work. And yet she is also notably different from the great master of modern literature. "Where Beckett's characters slide almost inevitably toward extinction, resignation, and silence," Stump points out, "Redonnet's display a force for life and creation that borders on the triumphant. . . . [They] retain even in the darkest situations a remarkable persistence, openness, and above all hope, a hope that may well be, however unspectacularly, repaid in the end."
Jordan Stump is an assistant professor of French at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Built at the edge of a swamp and over an underground lake, the Htel Splendid had given its owner, the book's narrator, ``nothing but satisfaction'' since she inherited it from her grandmother. Until, that is, she was visited by the plagues that drive this spare and darkly comic novel. The first plague comes in the form of the narrator's two sisters, who had left their grandmother's hotel to wander through Europe in search of sanitoria for the sickly Ada and a stage for the would-be actress, Adel. Spoiled and petulant, Ada and Adel offer their sister little help as she tries to cope with pests (flies, mosquitoes, rats, bedbugs, spiders, termites); workmen (carpenter, cabinetmaker, roofer, plumber) and their bills; and guests (prospectors, geologists, team foremen, engineers) associated with an ill-fated trans-swamp railroad line. The Splendid is the only home the narrator has ever known and she remembers its early history as a incongruously swank hotel (the grandmother had each room built with a toilet, the bane of her granddaughter's days) shimmering at the edge of nature's mucky, encroaching chaos. It's a great image and Redonnet makes skillful use of the broadly metaphoric possibilities. It is the kind of novel Edward Gorey could love and, sometimes, reading Redonnet's telegraphic prose, one it seems he might even have written. (``Adel had a fit of hysterics. She wears a corset to make her stand up straighter. It squeezes her too much, it constricts her heart and she has spells. Sometimes she faints in front of the guests.'') (Nov.)
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