Olivier Rolin • Translated by Jane Kuntz • Dalkey Archive Press • Available May 27
Olivier Rolin’s Hotel Crystal begins by explaining that its text — a series of meticulous descriptions of hotel rooms written on postcards, pages torn from novels, maps, playbills and stationary — was discovered by coincidence in a train station. The collection’s “author,” a slapdash adventurer, spy and sometime criminal also named Olivier Rolin, has met an untimely end, but the mysteries surrounding his life and authorial project are only beginning.
Part formal exercise, part absurdist escapade and part homage to Georges Perec, Hotel Crystal aspires to so many ends that none are explored completly. But by positing an often tedious authenticity against blatant fabrications, the novel successfully highlights the fraught process of storytelling. Each “chapter” devolves in a similar fashion: the reader is subjected to a room description of blueprint-like accuracy and then treated to a glimpse of the increasingly exaggerated exploits that brought Rolin there. The real may be wondrous, as the collection’s editors expound, but it can always be improved upon with a bit of embellishment.