‘The Hammam’ by Hervé Guibert

The Hammam by Hervé Guibert, 1996

The magic trick:

Every sentence working to establish setting

Guibert takes us to an set of steam baths today, and it’s not a pleasant visit.

This isn’t a story with a direct plot. No character arcs. Well, that’s not quite right. There are characters. We just don’t get to know them in a standard characterization kind of way. Instead, this story is about place. Every sentence works to establish the setting and a mood.

And that’s quite a trick on Guibert’s part.

The selection:

The woman, behind her glass window with her violet water and eau de Cyprus, her hair creams, the faded prices on her wash mitts and cupping glasses, her discolored plastic roses, stares at the visitor a long time, and asks him in a businesslike tone if this is his first visit.

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