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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Hotel Crystal

Olivier Rolin

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To purchase Hotel Crystal

Title: Hotel Crystal
Author: Olivier Rolin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 210 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Hotel Crystal - US
Hotel Crystal - UK
Hotel Crystal - Canada
Suite à l'hôtel Crystal - Canada
Suite à l'hôtel Crystal - France
  • French title: Suite à l'hôtel Crystal
  • Translated by Jane Kuntz

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining if not entirely satisfying variations

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 9/5/2008 Ken Tucker
L'Express . 1/11/2004 Daniel Martin
The LA Times . 29/6/2008 Jim Ruland

  From the Reviews:
  • "Frenchman Rolin engages in literary game-playing in Hotel Crystal, crossing influences such as Vladimir Nabokov and Georges Perec. It's only when Rolin introduces a warmongering "President Push" that his airy playfulness becomes briefly heavy-handed." - Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Répété, l'exercice pourrait devenir fastidieux -- il l'est parfois -- s'il n'était toujours enrichi, et comme égayé, d'une part plus sensible qu'Olivier Rolin livre généralement en fin de chapitre. Une courte histoire ou un souvenir." - Daniel Martin, L'Express

  • "Rolin has written a fascinating book that resists easy classification, but it's also grindingly dull. (...) The writing is dry, the humor droll and the descriptions of the rooms maddeningly repetitive, yet Hotel Crystal is a hugely compelling read. One must diligently mark one's place for fear of getting lost -- such is the sameness of the scenarios, but one never tires of the schemes. Rolin takes fiendish delight in skewering the redundancies of spy fictionand writing in the realist mode." - Jim Ruland, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A 'Forward' to Hotel Crystal describes some of the history of this text, suggesting its author (also named 'Olivier Rolin') has disappeared and that he left behind these notes, which have been assembled here in a "systematic and critical fashion". The book itself consists of forty-three chapters, where almost:

each describes a hotel room in minute detail -- something like a detective at a crime scene might -- then goes on to relate an anecdote involving the author and this particular location.
       At the end of each chapter is also a short (editor's) note, describing what the text was written on -- which ranges from torn out pages from books to menus, taxi receipts, and the occasional sheet of stationary.
       Elsewhere the author reveals that writing such a hotel-journal has been an ambition of his -- a tribute of sorts to Georges Perec, and specifically a project Perec refers to in his Species of Spaces:
When it comes to authors I love, I can't bear the idea that they left a project incomplete. So, in all modesty, I do it for them. My way of reading these works is to complete them, that's all (or to put it more precisely, to save them from incompletion). Thus, I have written endings for Bouvard and Pécuchet, The Castle, The Trial, Dead Souls, etc. (as for The Man without Qualities, I just haven't found the energy yet). What you presently hold before your eyes is the eighth section ("Hotels") of Places Where I Have Slept by Georges Perec (I always begin the books that I'm finishing at the end),
       One of the later chapters is such a listing of hotel rooms, but most of the chapters focus on individual rooms, all across the world -- Russia, Japan, France, Canada, Argentina, etc. -- and Rolin spins out longer (and often quite far-flung) tales from these locales.
       Rolin's eagerness to slip into other identities -- Georges Perec's, as he suggests, or, in a sense, that of the other authors whose works he completes -- is also evident in the book: this Rolin bears similarities to the author, but enjoys quite different adventures. Rather than just an author, this Rolin is involved in grand international plots -- hired to "stir up a secession from the Russian Federation" in a far-flung republic, for example --, or spending some time teaching at a school for fallen monarchs. And there's considerable and frequent danger to life and limb and, for example, he kills a man with a ricin-tipped sword sheathed in his umbrella (the wrong man, no less). It's like Harry Mathews' My Life in CIA taken to even more absurd extremes.
       Almost each chapter begins with a close and detailed description of a hotel room, down to its measurements, a Perecian approach with just enough variation and creativity to keep from becoming too repetitive. Beyond that the accounts range from the banal to the mysterious, non-events alternating with large-scale conspiracies -- and over-the-top characters such as "Pashmina Pachelbel, the queen of Turkish strippers" and the threatening Antonomarenko.
       One hotel he returns to several times is the Hotel Crystal of the title, but its room 211 is not like the others. It's obviously part of the key to these puzzles, yet remains elusive -- and at one point Rolin toys with the reader, in an account from the supposed 'Royal Suite' at the Hotel Crystal, admitting then that:
     All that, of course, is pure fabrication. This little gathering never took place. I've told you a dozen times that I don't have ANY memory of the Hotel Crystal. The Hotel Crystal is a vacant space, a warehouse of imaginary merchandise, a hotel in a novel, as it were. A suite in the Hotel Crystal ... and you fell for it ! And yes, it's not the kind of hotel that has suites (as in "pursuit" ?) ...
       It makes for an odd mix of literary game and espionage thriller, with even a briefcase papered with the first draft of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (very much like the briefcase in which the notes making up this novel were found ...) playing a role.
       Hotel Crystal is amusing, exotic, and often very clever in its details, and it is certainly frequently surprising, but it remains too fragmentary and scattered to be truly satisfying, a playful idea that Rolin couldn't be bothered with seeing all the way through. Still, it's a fairly enjoyable bit of experimentation.

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Hotel Crystal: Reviews: Other books by Olivier Rolin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Olivier Rolin was born in 1947.

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