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Hotel World weaves a dark and emotionally charged tale around 5 seemingly unconnected women at the Global Hotel. Penny, Lise, Else, Claire and Sara. The book starts with the death of Sara. A chambermaid at the Global Hotel Sara plunges to her death after a bet goes terribly wrong. Through the eyes of the 5 female leads we see the hotel and the repercussions this terrible accident has.
The overall theme of the book is death, it is not however a morbid read. It's how we love, let go and let people in. The book is not an easy read. It's split into 5 segments, with each segment based around one of the five characters. This gives the book a rather fractured feel and the quick change in tone does initially jar but overall it works fantastically.
I laughed and I cried and I've read it over and over. The characters that tread the pages are exceptional and will stick with you long after you close the book, it is haunting. If you want something different, something more then your usual chick-lit then pick up Hotel World. It is something you will not regret. You will never look at a Hotel in the same way ever again nor will you grumble about that stone knocking around in your shoe.
I found Hotel World to be a frustrating read. Recommended to me by many people, I was excited at the thought of reading what reviewers had described as a profound and breathtaking book, but I found myself a little disappointed.
The novel is dominated by a long, dark, narrow shaft; running down the centre of the Global Hotel, it was built to contain the dumb waiter, but was shut down after a 19 year old chamber maid called Sara plummeted to her death after getting inside for a joke. Sara's death and the effect it has on others provides the nucleus of this story. Five people tell their stories, each story standing alone and having a sometimes tenuous connection to the tragedy.
Sara herself starts the ball rolling. Now a ghost who has a desperate and unexplained need to find out the time of her death, she drifts in and out of her now useless body and broods upon her past. Else is a homeless woman who sits begging outside the hotel. Her life is centred around the next coin that drops into her bag, and the night shelter that may or may not let her in that night. She is an impartial observer to the dramas that take place inside the warm rooms of the hotel. Another impartial observer is Penny; a guest in the hotel who as a reporter is always sniffing around for a good story, but misses the human pain that she witnesses in the corridors. Lisa is the fourth woman who tells her story in the book. Now trapped in her bedroom by a mystery disease, she remembers her previous life when she worked as the hotel receptionist. Drifting in and out of sleep, she considers her weakness and powerlessness and remembers Sara. The final woman to tell her story is Clare, the bereaved younger sister of the dead girl. Writing in a unpunctuated stream of consciousness and reminiscent of text speak, her story is painful to read as she reveals her distress and the ordeal of her parents.
These five stories are beautifully written; from the helpless girl lying in bed with ME, to the sophisticated Penny, each woman has a distinct voice that draws the reader totally in to their stories. At first sight this is a simple collection of short stories centred around a hotel, but there is much more depth and intelligence here; this subtle novel is all about grief and the stages of the grieving process. Sara symbolises isolation as she tries to come to terms with her own death; Else the homeless woman symbolises anger; Lise, the receptionist who counts every passing minute of her night duty by the minute hand of the big reception clock, signifies depression; Penny, the hard-nosed reporter symbolises bargaining; and Clare, the bereaved younger sister who is drawn irresistibly back to the place where her sister died, eventually symbolises acceptance as she draws the novel full circle in conclusion.
My breath was taken away by the quality of this writing, and the small worlds that Smith creates, but my frustration came with the plot: I would have liked a little more obvious connection between the characters - a clever plot twist to surprise me at the end. I have never enjoyed short stories and the thread running through this novel is too tenuous for me. Hotel World was a good read, but not a great read.
Ali Smith is a Scottish writer, who writes for several broadsheets as well as producing novels. Hotel World was shortlisted for both the Orange and the Booker prize in 2001.
It was published in 2001 by Penguin books. 236 pages, ISBN 9780140296792
Woooooooo- hooooooo is how it starts. with an irresistable first page that reminded me of the close rapport between two dooyooers. But no, the author is Ali Smith, it's not an Alki Murphy collaboration. It opens with the thoughts of a nineteen-year-old chambermaid Sara Wilby as she plummets - and after she has plummeted - four floors down to her death inside a dumb waiter at the Global Hotel where she works. Post-mortem fiction seems to be all the rage at the moment, doesn't it? We see the events of one night from five different viewpoints, one by one, like five interconnected short stories. Sarah: recalling her final memories as they slowly fade. Else: a homeless person begging on the street outside. Lisa: the hotel's clock-watching receptionist, who takes Else in and gives her a free room for the night. (Well, she is a woman, as is the author. Politicians and terrorists are mostly men. Go figure.) Penny: a style-journalist for a broadsheet who is staying in the hotel (and who isn't the greatest advert for the human race.) Clare: Sarah's younger sister. Bereft, she sits across the road from the hotel, waiting for a chance to go inside and see where her sister fell. (Written as a stream of consciousness this section is truly moving at times.) There is little interaction between the characters, and when their paths do cross, it is as strangers, strange ships passing in the night. They all seem to have an emptiness in their lives. "Five people: four are living, three are strangers, two are sisters, one is dead." as the blurb on the back says. It also, quite rightly describes the book as "unsettling and disturbing", exaggeratingly labels it "wildly funny", and very accurately applies the words "haunting" and "mesmerizing". It made me feel like a lonely person looking out of a
window on a rainy afternoon, while listening to Sting singing "Fragile". I felt quite an affinity for the author through her characters, so I was disappointed that one of them (Duncan - who was deeply affected by witnessing Sarah's fall) wasn't explored. Hotel World was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (it didn't win) and the Booker Prize (which I don't think it will win either.) I'm glad I read it. It's sad but beautiful, with funny intervals. ____________________________________________________
This story brings alive five characters, one of whom is dead, during one night in a hotel. The author traces their intersecting lives, examining the themes of time, chance, money and death.