A sparkling and humorous book about a young girl and her feuding parents
After the fabulous Sammie en opa (Sammy and Grandpa, 2013), Hotel Bonbien is Enne Koens’ second brilliant book for readers of eight and up. This is a warm and appealing story about ten-year-old Siri, who is worried that her parents, who run a roadside hotel on the N19 trunk road in France, are heading for divorce.
Divorce and family feuds are, of course, dramatic events, but Koens tells the story with plenty of humour, and yet without ignoring the gravity of the situation. She describes the arguments – which are usually about money – hilariously, but still the reader can feel that, for Siri and her brother Gilles, it’s anything but fun. Gilles withdraws into himself and looks as “sad as a little dog in the rain”, while Siri tries to keep the peace.
The way Siri analyses the differences between her parents is wonderful: “As far as my dad’s concerned, everything’s fine as long as it goes the way he thinks it will. My mum’s completely different. She likes it when everything turns out differently than she’d expected.”
Siri’s dad is a nice guy, but he’s ineffectual and tight-fisted; he even dries used teabags on the radiator so that he can reuse them. Her mum, though, is passionate and enthusiastic and believes money’s there to be spent. Siri even notes that they snore differently: “I hear my mum snoring, loud and fast. I hear my dad snoring, all quiet and squeaky.”
We follow Siri’s life for a year, as she wonders how she can improve her parents’ relationship and has lots of little adventures along the way. She puts spicy sambal sauce in her teacher’s coffee, goes to a beautifully described party at her friend Sylvie’s house – whose parents are getting divorced even though they never argue! – and has a nasty fall from a tree.
After that accident, the story takes a gently absurd turn: Siri finds that the bump on her head has left her with a photographic memory. Her brother enters her into a memory competition – and the prize is seven thousand euros. Could that money put an end to all the arguments between her parents?