Hotel Splendid

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1994-09-28
  • Publisher: Univ of Nebraska Pr
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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 suburbanlyceebefore deciding to pursue a writing career full time. Since her volume of poetryLe Mort & Cieappeared 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.Hotel Splendidrecounts the daily life of three sisters who live in a decrepit hotel on the edge of a swamp;Forever Valleyis about a sixteen-year-old girl who works in a dance-hall and looks for the dead;Rose Mellie Roseis the story of another adolescent girl who assembles a photographic and written record of her life in the dying town of Oat.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."

Author Biography

Jordan Stump is an assistant professor of French at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Chapter One

The Splendid is not what it used to be since grandmother died. The lavatories always need unblocking. The wallpaper is peeling off the walls because of the damp. The Hôtel Splendid is built over an underground lake. It's grandmother's fault. No one had ever built a hotel on the edge of the swamp. Having her own hotel had always been her dream. She wanted to do things properly. She had lavatories installed in all the rooms. There was not another like it in the region back then. She was proud of the Hôtel Splendid. There is a photo of her taken the day of the opening. She is standing very straight, with a cane. Her cane was for effect, because she always walked well, up until the end. The photo still makes an impression in the foyer. But the Splendid has lost its reputation. My sisters keep themselves up in spite of their isolation here. Ada dyes her hair, and Adel's is still very black. Of the three of us, I am the youngest but I look the oldest. Ada spends hours making herself up. It makes her look healthy. You would never think she was so unwell. She has always been unwell. She faints often. Adel can't bear the sight of Ada when she has fainted. I am the one who helps her back to consciousness. Afterwards, it is as if she didn't know who I was. I have no will. She takes advantage of that. I do everything she asks. That amuses her, I am sure. She complains about the food. She has bruises all over her body because of her bad circulation. Her nightstand is covered with medicine and jars of makeup. She wants me to wash her. That's hard for me because she has an odor that makes me queasy. She has never worked. Mother used to support her, and now I do. I inherited the Hôtel Splendid. But in exchange, I owe an allowance to my sisters. They chose to come and live at the hotel instead of taking the allowance. Here they are housed, fed, and served. Maybe I should not have agreed to this arrangement. Ada and Adel left the hotel very young with mother. They never came back until mother died. I am the only one who never left the Hôtel Splendid. But now that they have settled in, they are not about to leave. They have made themselves at home. They have taken the two nicest rooms, but that does not prevent them from complaining about the Hôtel Splendid's poor condition and lack of comfort. I should not let them get the better of me. I keep them alive, thanks to my work and the hotel. But the Splendid brings in less and less. It needs repairs. I don't have the means. Grandmother left a great many debts when she died. She never finished paying her bills. Mother said it was up to me to pay them, since I was inheriting the Hôtel Splendid like grandmother wanted. She left me to get by on my own. She never took an interest in the hotel. The Splendid brought in a lot back then. But all the money I earned went to paying off grandmother's debts. Grandmother hoped the hotel would increase in value. She thought the railway would transform the region. But the railway is still under construction. That's bad for the hotel. The guests are not the same. It isn't a vacation hotel anymore. I had to lower the prices. What can I do? Grandmother should not have built the hotel so near the swamp. They warned her, but she was stubborn. The Splendid is harder and harder to keep up. The guests are careless. The lavatories are in bad condition. Little by little the Splendid is becoming unrecognizable. When you look at the photo in the foyer, you would never think it was the same hotel. It has kept only its name, Hôtel Splendid, which still shines at night when the neon lights are on. I do everything I can to run the hotel as well as grandmother did. I have no room of my own. I want all the rooms to be available for the guests. When there is an empty room, that is where I sleep. When the Splendid is full, I stay in grandmother's little office where I keep my belongings. The mattresses are bad in all the rooms. The bedding needs to be changed. The guests complain that they don't sleep well. You can hear everything through the walls. Grandmother was careless about the walls. They are much too thin, and hollow as well. The lavatories are noisier and noisier, especially the flush valves. I get up every night to make sure Ada doesn't need anything. She sleeps with her mouth open. She seems to have trouble breathing. She wakes up with a start every time. She gives me a resentful look as if I were disturbing her on purpose. But I am only there to remind her to take her medicine. Her kidneys do not work well. She says it's starting up again, like at the clinic. She has spent her life going from clinic to clinic. I open the window to get rid of the smell. She thinks I am trying to give her a chill. She is coughing louder than she used to. The hallway light is acting up. I run into things as I walk down the hall, and I have bruises like Ada. Back in my bed, I can't manage to fall asleep again. I think about Ada. Her cheeks are becoming hollow, in spite of all her eating. Nothing does her any good. Every morning, I unblock the lavatories in all the rooms. The drainage is worse and worse, in spite of my work. The guests are careless. It is because of them that everything is becoming blocked up little by little. The light is on all night in Adel's room. And yet I told her she must not waste light. What can she be doing all night with her light on? She cannot be rehearsing her lines at night. Even though she has retired to the Splendid, she has not given up on her theatrical career. She writes to theater directors to ask about parts. She doesn't have much of a voice for an actress. She has never played anything but small roles. She has never had the chance to play the big roles she rehearses in her room. She says she must not lose her talent no matter what. I know nothing about the theater. In her room, there used to be a suitcase full of her old costumes. I threw them away. They were moth-eaten and crawling with vermin, a real breeding ground for disease. Adel never goes to see Ada. She never asks after her. She can't complain about her room. It is the only room on the ground floor. She has plenty of privacy to rehearse her lines. She doesn't bother the guests. Her lavatory is like new. It was grandmother's room. It could have been my room when grandmother died. But I didn't want to live in it. I left it empty until Adel came, and never rented it. That's why the lavatory is in such good condition. It is the guests who damage them. Ada can't complain about her room either. She has the only room with two beds in the hotel, at the end of the hall. It was Ada and Adel's room when they were little, back when they lived at the Splendid. Mother left all of a sudden with my sisters, leaving me alone with grandmother. She never came back. When mother sensed she was dying, she wanted Ada to go back to her old room so she would not feel lost. But Ada says she no longer remembers the room. I am sorry she took it because it was the guests' favorite room. Ada sleeps in the same bed as when she was little. Now Ada and Adel live at opposite ends of the hotel. Adel's old bed is empty next to Ada's bed. Sometimes I sleep in it when Ada is worse and needs me to be with her all night. Ada is afraid at night. At the clinic, there was always a night nurse at her bedside. Mother insisted. She paid extra. According to grandmother, mother always put Ada in the most expensive clinics. Apparently she ruined herself for Ada, she killed herself working to pay for clinics that were beyond her means. Ada never got better. She always needs something. She is never happy. All she does is complain about the damp in the Hôtel Splendid. She says it's the Splendid that is making her unwell. But she doesn't know where she would go if she left the hotel. The Splendid is really very near the swamp. The heat is becoming unbearable. When you go into the garden, you can already smell the swamp. It spreads a little every year. In grandmother's day, it was full of hunters. During the season, they stayed at the hotel. The canal that runs along the far end of the garden leads to the swamp. The Splendid has direct access to the swamp thanks to the canal. Now the hunters have changed swamps. There are many swamps in the region. I never stop mending the mosquito nets. The nets are torn everywhere, and the guests complain about the mosquitoes. Ada says she was bitten on the eye. Her eye is all swollen. She can't see clearly. But it might not be because of a mosquito like she thinks. It might come from inside, like everything else. The nets keep out the mosquitoes less and less. This heat is bad for Ada. Her spells are more frequent. She also smells more strongly because of the sweat. She complains that her makeup will not stay on. I put cold compresses on her forehead. Having the swamp so close makes her nervous, especially on these hot days. Ada hates the swamp. Mother used to criticize grandmother for not thinking things through before she bought this land. She thought it was grandmother's fault that Ada was unwell. But even away from the Hôtel Splendid, Ada never got better. So her sickness is not caused by the swamp like mother thought. You can see the swamp is spreading because the far end of the garden is becoming marshy. It was not that way in grandmother's day. The gardener used to put his prettiest flower beds at the far end of the garden. Grandmother's gardener has been dead for a long time. The garden is in an awful state. It isn't even a garden anymore. Grandmother knew the swamp well. I know it well too. I taught Adel about it. That made her happy. But she never forgets about the theater. She is waiting for answers to her letters. She has not given up on getting a part. She doesn't think her career is over, probably because her career never really began. She never had any training. Maybe that is why she never got any real parts. That's what Ada thinks. Ada is worried about Adel. She asks after her. She says mother was always very concerned about Adel. She really wanted her to have a wonderful career. Adel is developing a stoop. It is not good for an actress to be stooped. I don't like Adel's voice. It is not an actress's voice. How could she have had a career with a voice like that? Ada has a beautiful voice. She is the one who should play Adel's roles. There is a piano in the foyer. Grandmother knew how to play it. She always played the same songs. She tried to teach me to sing so I could accompany her. I never could learn. I don't have any kind of a voice. Adel knows how to play the piano. She plays the same songs as grandmother, the only ones she knows. But she doesn't like the piano. Her voice is on key. I like her voice better when she sings. She was angry when I told her she should sing instead of rehearsing her roles. She has not touched the piano since. She says it's worthless and out of tune. Grandmother always said it was an expensive piano and that it must be taken care of. It still makes a good impression in the foyer. It's a shame it is always closed. Grandmother used to say there should always be music in the Hôtel Splendid. That was why she played the piano, not because she loved music. The guests were happy. The hotel was lively back then, and busy. Now, none of the guests are unhappy to see the piano closed. The guests are not interested in music. It's a stroke of luck that they are building the railway. They say it will run along the edge of the swamp. All the guests come from the work site. They would rather stay at the hotel than sleep in the tents the company gives them. Even if they complain about the state of the lavatories, the Hôtel Splendid is a blessing for them. I do all I can to be pleasant towards them. I pay particular attention to the lavatories in their rooms. Especially with this heat, you have to make sure everything is flushed away. The workmen are grateful. I need them. It isn't like that with my sisters. I could do very well without their presence. I have never lived with them, and now here they are sharing my life. It was mother who asked them to come back to the Splendid, a little before she died. She never asked me what I thought. She wanted me to look after my sisters because she would not be there to look after them anymore. But I would rather look after the Splendid's guests than my sisters.

The hotel is full every night. It is becoming hotter and hotter. The workmen stay up late because of the heat. They talk in the garden in spite of the mosquitoes and the smell of the swamp. Adel keeps them company. She tells them about the theater. They have never been. It is a real break for Adel to have such an attentive audience. She puts on makeup and nice clothes as if she were going to a party. She wears very low-cut dresses. But she is not that young anymore, and her dresses don't do much for her. She is not afraid of showing herself. The workmen seem to appreciate her in spite of her flaws. She knows how to talk to them. The younger ones gather around her. Adel is making good use of this heat wave. She likes the long nights in the garden. She has even cleared the brush around the hotel to make the garden more pleasant. But the mosquitoes bite her. She is covered with spots. If I were her, I would not wear such low-cut dresses. I have never seen her like this before. The workmen drink a lot because of the heat. Their throats are dry. I serve them drinks until late at night. The money is coming in. I am not complaining. Ada's medicine is expensive. When I am not serving drinks, I go up and see Ada. She has trouble breathing because of the heat. The voices coming from the garden keep her awake. I fan her. As soon as I stop, she asks me to give her more air. It gives me cramps in my hands. Ada thinks it's natural that I should spend the night giving her air while Adel is enjoying herself in the garden. Adel is behaving strangely. She is the last one to leave the garden. It is as if she were waiting for something that never comes. In the daytime, when the hotel is empty, she seems lost. She comes and goes. When night falls, she shuts herself in her room to get ready. Her dresses hang loose on her. You can see her sagging breasts. She has no modesty. I can't help but look. That irritates her. When she goes to bed, there is always one of the workmen following her into her room. I should have known. It is not my concern what Adel does. I should not interfere. When the workmen talk to me, it is always to ask for a drink or to ask me to go and fix their lavatories. I am always busy with Ada. She can't bear to be left alone in her room while everyone is in the garden. Her body is clammy. I have to dry her off. She has slack, white skin. I do not like Ada's skin. I leave the door of her room open to let in the breeze. I am not like my sisters. Ada is always talking about Adel. Adel has begun performing in the garden for the workmen. They listen in silence, and then they applaud. Adel thinks she is in the theater when really she is in the Splendid. Ada also listens to Adel from her room. She isn't bored at night anymore. As soon as Adel is done, Ada has a coughing fit. It gives me a scare every time. The medicine is not helping her. I don't like the heat. There is nothing I can do about the heat or the way it brings out odors.

I have never left the Hôtel Splendid. My sisters did a lot of traveling with mother. Adel says mother never stayed in one place. She used to sing in hotels, accompanying herself on piano. The guests appreciated her. Adel is becoming more talkative. She needs to confide in someone. I don't know why grandmother never told me mother used to sing in hotels. She used to sing at the Splendid as well, before I was born. Grandmother accompanied her at the piano. Adel says mother would have liked to study voice, but grandmother was against it because she wanted her to devote herself to the Hôtel Splendid. Adel thinks mother had a pretty voice. She spent all her life with mother, much more than Ada who was ill too often to take part in their travels. Every day, mother wrote a letter to Ada. Adel is amazed that Ada is still alive while mother is dead. Now that mother is dead, Adel would like to devote herself to the theater. But she can't find any work. She is not discouraged, she still has hopes. All those letters she wrote trying to find a part. She thinks she will get an answer in the end. It is lucky for her the workmen like to listen to her perform. It gives her confidence. She perspires a great deal as she declaims. It is best not to see her too close up. She gesticulates too much as well. It would be better if she stood still. She would perspire less. She has gaps in her memory. The workmen don't notice. She is rehearsing in her room more than ever. I hear her while I am working at unblocking the lavatories. Ada is doing worse. She is taking a new kind of medicine. We have to wait. She has abscesses. Her fever will not break. It must be an infection caused by the abscesses. With this heat, the mosquitoes are vicious. Ada complains about them. The mosquito net doesn't protect her completely. But her abscesses do not come from the mosquitoes, no matter what she says. I almost never leave her anymore. I sleep in the bed next to hers. It was Adel's bed when she was little. I sleep, in a manner of speaking. Ada keeps me up, even when she is asleep. I am too afraid she will take a turn for the worse. Now Adel is the one who serves drinks to the workmen. But the men have fevers. There is an epidemic. A lot of the men can no longer work because of their fever. The work isn't going anywhere. There are unforeseen complications. That is the way it always is with construction. The company is worried. There was a leak in one of the rooms on the second floor, a hole in a pipe. The entire room was flooded. I tried to fix it myself, but it would not hold. I called the plumber. He complained about the state of the pipes. He is afraid his repair will not hold and that soon there will be leaks all over the hotel. As if it weren't enough that the lavatories are blocked. The wood of the balconies is beginning to rot. It will not be long before it becomes dangerous to walk on them. I wrote up a little notice for the guests. I put it up in the foyer, on the board where grandmother put up the house rules of the Hôtel Splendid. In my notice, I ask the guests not to go out on the balconies anymore. It is a question of safety. I also ask them not to throw anything into the lavatories, or else I cannot guarantee proper drainage. The guests didn't look happy when they read the notice. But they have got to do their part, instead of making everything dirty like they do. I have to boil the linens longer and longer to get them white. This epidemic comes at a bad time. The men don't stay out in the garden at night anymore. They go up to their rooms and try to sleep, to break their fever. Adel has a fever too. I am the only one who comes and goes. I am acclimated to the swamp. The germs could not make me sick. Everything will be better when the hot weather is over. We will have to wait. Every year it is the same. What bothers me isn't the epidemic, but the Hôtel Splendid. No matter how hard I work to take care of it, I can see it is falling apart. The materials grandmother chose are not resistant enough. All she thought about was comfort and lavatories, and she did not even notice they were badly installed. Now the Splendid is showing the flaws in its construction, now that it is too late and the harm has been done. I don't know anymore how to maintain the hygiene necessary for the functioning of the hotel. Adel has cramps. She has stopped rehearsing. She says she will never go back on the stage, she is finished, she never should have come to the Splendid, it was fatal to her. She skulks in the hallway. I scarcely recognize her. She went up to see Ada and accused her of contaminating the whole hotel with her sickness. Ada is sad, but she is not angry at Adel. She says Adel is to be pitied. The guests are beginning to leave the hotel. There are unoccupied rooms. They have stopped the construction. I put the vacancy sign back on the front door. It rains at night. That cools off the rooms. The heat is subsiding. Ada always has the same dream. She dreams she is not Ada but Adel. The guests are asking for their bills. The Splendid is quiet all of a sudden. I take advantage of the calm to clean the rooms from top to bottom. They need it. The workmen did a lot of damage. I will not miss them. It is best that they leave the Hôtel Splendid.

The railway line is not close to being finished. The work site is deserted. All the men are gone. Apparently the project was badly designed and they have to start over. The heat broke all of a sudden. Adel has started working on her lines again. Ada gets up sometimes. She walks through the hallway and goes into the empty rooms. She eats a lot, at any time of day. She has a sly look, it seems to me. She has stopped taking her medicine. She wastes her makeup. She likes to cause difficulties. I have caught her several times throwing cotton balls into the lavatories. It is the offseason. There are not many guests. Ariel is always peering at them, but they pay no attention to her. I have a little time to myself. I use it to go to the swamp. The swamp does not change. It is larger than it looks. You really have to know the swamp to keep from getting lost. My sisters do not trouble themselves about the Hôtel Splendid. They don't care that it is falling apart. As long as they are waited on and never have to do anything. It is as if they were on vacation here, an endless vacation. I make their lives too easy. I even wonder if Adel is working seriously on her acting. It looks to me like she is only pretending. She is always going and prowling around by the work site. Maybe the future of the railway interests her more than the theater. She must not be very sure anymore of having a future in the theater. The construction of the railway has become her favorite topic of conversation. She thinks I should change the name of the hotel, and call it the Railway Hotel. But there is no talk of starting up the work again. The swamp deserves more attention. It is a real nature preserve. There is always more of it to explore. Ada seems to be convalescing. The empty hotel is good for her. Even though she has always hated the swamp, she asked me to take her there for a walk. I was sure the swamp would do her good. That is the first time Ada has asked to go out. But she was disappointed by her walk. She couldn't bear the odor of the swamp. She thought it was always the same, no matter which way you turned. She couldn't stop shivering, in spite of the blanket she was wrapped in. When we got back, she went straight to bed. She had a high fever. I had to give her a hot-water bottle. It did not warm her at all. She says her limbs are like lead. She blames the swamp for her relapse. She will never go back there again. The walk was not a success. She is staying in her room again. She calls me for no reason, because her hot-water bottle isn't hot enough. She complains that the fire will not stay lit. And yet the amount of wood she burns in her fireplace is incredible. Her blood doesn't circulate properly. Her limbs are like ice. It is cold outside all of a sudden. It's almost always like that after the really hot weather, the cold blows in violently. Ada did not take the temperature change well. Her cough is back. Adel complains about Adds cough. She says it's unbearable, and that Ada is doing it on purpose to disturb everyone in the hotel and to drive the guests away.


Excerpted from HÔTEL SPLENDID by Marie Redonnet. Copyright © 1986 by Les Éditions de Minuit.
Translation copyright © 1994 University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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