Reading Lately …

I’m much more familiar with Iliad than The Odyssey. As a teenager, with the help of a magnifying glass and Liddell and Scott’s ancient Greek lexicon, I learnt to write the first line of Iliad in Greek from memory, a silly party trick.


Robert Fagles’ verse translation of Odyssey succeeds at turning the poem into fathomable vernacular, though there are times when one feels he must have strayed reasonably far from the nuances of the original Greek. On balance I probably prefer the prose translation of E. V. Rieu, revised by D. C. H. Rieu, philistine though that might appear. I intend to read George Chapman’s Homer sometime soon. Fagles‘ Odyssey has been a fine companion though and despite knowing the story am still not immune to the heightening tension as it progresses toward the slaughter of the suitors.

This summer I plan a second attempt at Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, joining Richard and Francis for the 1130 pages—or 1770 with From the Posthumous Papers edition—translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. I am hoping this more modern translation keeps my interest longer than that of Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser.

As a side project I’m slowly collecting and reading a series of little books on modern European literary figures, published in the fifties by Bowes and Bowes of Cambridge. The first four I have are on Sartre, Kleist, Jacques Riviere and Valery. They caught my eye when watching the video of Duncan Fallowell’s library. They look wonderful and may number fifty or so in number.

Other reading plans, always subjects to whimsy, include dipping into Anita Brookner’s oeuvre, exploring whether William Gerhardie’s work still stands up, undoubtedly more Schmidt and Redonnet, and more ancient Greeks.

Marie Redonnet’s Hôtel Splendid

Two aspects struck me on my first reading of Marie Redonnet’s Hôtel Splendid. Pared back sentences flow unexpectedly, not quite a bricolage, but also not quite where one expects them to be. Take the opening paragraph:

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 grandmothers 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.

The more one interrogates the paragraph, the more the causal connections between the sentences seem erratic. The narration continues in that style, until one realises that Redonnet is also compressing time and space in unusual ways. Situations and emotions change polarity within a few paragraphs. On one page she writes, “The Hôtel Splendid has come back to life.” Two pages on she reports, “There are not many guests.” The reversals in the hotel’s fortunes and those of its guests and hosts are relentless.

On a second reading, it was easier to appreciate the narrative voice, old-fashioned in a sense, but one that maintains, even reinforces, a distance from the narrator and her two similarly named sisters. Redonnet subverts the first person perspective by adopting a voyeur-eye view. The effect is alienating but without dampening any curiosity to see how far, and where, Redonnet plans to take the story.

Hôtel Splendid is part of a triptych of novels, translated by Jordan Stump. I intend to read all three out of curiosity for Redonnet’s stylistic development and to see what binds the three novels together.