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Hotel World

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Five disparate voices inhabit Ali Smith's dreamlike, mesmerising Hotel World, set in the luxurious anonymity of the Global Hotel, in an unnamed northern English city. The disembodied yet interconnected characters include Sara, a 19-year-old chambermaid who has recently died at the hotel; her bereaved sister, Clare, who visits the scene of Sara's death; Penny, an advertising copywriter who is staying in the room opposite; Lise, the Global's depressed receptionist; and the homeless Else who begs on the street outside. Smith's ambitious prose explores all facets of language and its uses. Sara takes us through the moment of her exit from the world and beyond; in her desperate, fading grip on words and senses she gropes to impart the meaning of her death in what she terms "the lift for dishes"--then comes a flash of clarity: "That's the name for it, the name for it; that's it; dumb waiter dumb waiter dumb waiter." Blended with hers are other voices: Penny's bland journalese and Else's obsession with metaphysical poetry.

Hotel World is not an easy read: disturbing and witty by turns, with its stream-of-consciousness narrators reminiscent of Virgina Woolf's The Waves, its deceptively rambling language is underpinned by a formal construction. Exploring the "big themes" of love, death and millennial capitalism, it takes as its starting point Muriel Spark's Momento Mori ("Remember you must die") and counteracts this axiom with a resolute "Remember you must live". Ali Smith's novel is a daring, compelling, and frankly spooky read. --Catherine Taylor

238 pages, Paperback

First published April 25, 2001

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About the author

Ali Smith

174 books4,333 followers
Ali Smith is a writer, born in Inverness, Scotland, to working-class parents. She was raised in a council house in Inverness and now lives in Cambridge. She studied at Aberdeen, and then at Cambridge, for a Ph.D. that was never finished. In a 2004 interview with writing magazine Mslexia, she talked briefly about the difficulty of becoming ill with chronic fatigue syndrome for a year and how it forced her to give up her job as a lecturer at University of Strathclyde to focus on what she really wanted to do: writing. She has been with her partner Sarah Wood for 17 years and dedicates all her books to her.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 699 reviews
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,024 reviews4,071 followers
October 2, 2011
Another astonishing piece of work from Ms. Smith. Is there anything this writer can’t do? I have domestic duties and a rumbling stomach at present, so this review might be brief, and gushing. But here goes.

I love Ali Smith. I love Ali Smith because she moves me, and being a man, I’m not supposed to be moved by books. I’m supposed to be stirred by the raging masculinity of men in battle: the sound of gunfire in the crisp Vienna air as heads rain down upon the blood-soaked streets. But no. This pink-covered novel moved me to bits, and I am proud of the fact.

Split into six sections marked by a separate tense, Hotel World uses a corporate hotel and the accidental death of Sara Wilby as a pull for its five characters, establishing a style and structure used in her later novels The Accidental and There but for the. Each section varies in rhythm, style and narrative position, opening with Sara’s ghost conversing with her corpse to get the scoop on her death. Crouching in a dumbwaiter (a lift shaft for tea trolleys), Sara plummeted to a horrible death aged twenty.

Entangled in this tale is the predicament of homeless woman Else who plots to steal money from Sara’s sister Clare, crouched outside the hotel in a state of incoherent grief. She is invited in by Lisa (third character who later is stricken with a debilitating disease) and then hounded by the unpleasant Penny (fourth character: a journo seeking a scoop in Else). Each section immerses the reader deeply in these characters’ worlds, each drawn to this grim hotel with their own motives, problems, tenuous links to life.

Most staggering of all, however, is the internal monologue from Clare, a stream-of-consciousness outpouring and the most bone-shudderingly effective representation of grief I have read. The moment the mist clears and we realise Clare is throwing objects down the hotel’s dumbwaiter to determine the duration of her sister’s fall, our hearts break like Sara’s brittle bones.

Outrageously good. Books are rarely as skilful nowadays. Smith is a singular talent.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,473 followers
July 4, 2014
Ali Smith gets a lot of love from the reviewers (the real ones, not us hobbledehoys lurking under our Goodreads rock). She likes to be experimental. Or she does in this novel, anyway. Unfortunately "experimental" techniques provoke the train-spotter in me. Oh, I say to myself, there's some James Joyce. And here's Virginia Woolf. A soupcon of B S Johnson, and - yes ma'am - a nod to Donald Barthelme. Ali Smith drags in some heavy comparisons, thereby, and doesn't do herself any favours. This therefore is a very self-conscious book, playing to the intellectual gallery, and if it was a sculpture it'd be poncing about in the Tate Modern to be sure, pouting and drinking something contemporary.

The novel comes in five sections, written in five different monologues. The characters are, in turn, dead, mentally ill, depressed, neurotic and devastated by grief. Yes, this is not a cheerful read. But the characters the voices are there to evoke are paper-thin. We spend time with them, pick up a few fairly pointless unanswered questions, which remain unanswered (did this one have M.E.? Why was that one homeless?), and by the time we turn the page to begin another claustrophobic interior ramble, the last one is fading already.

I really loved the first chapter in which the ghost of a woman called Sara irritably interrogates Sara's earthly remains - an unintentional lovely-bonesey echo); I loved the dizzying leaps of perspective, and I thought the very quirky Notes-to-the-Previous-Chapter beginning on p 103 was very nice, but didn't go far enough. But otherwise, Penny the Copywriter was straight out of all the worst Radio 4 Afternoon Plays (this is a torture reserved for British people) and if the last chapter is a searing exploration of grief, my heart must be made of stone, I couldn't wait for that one to shut up already.

One of those books you don't think much of yourself for having to be honest about.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
April 7, 2019
This is the fourth book by Ali Smith I’ve read - which is interesting because if there’s a number Smith likes, it’s the number four - her books are sometimes divided into four sections and a couple have titles containing four words - How to Be Both, There But for the.

This book has four female characters, Else, Lisa, Penny and Claire. Each character has her own section which is written as an interior monologue. Each section is connected directly or indirectly to the hotel where a fifth character called Sara fell to her death before the book began. We hear the voice of her departing spirit trying to converse with her own dead body in a kind of preface but the book itself centres on the other four voices.

Hmm…what a lot of boring banalities I've trotted out so far - the same old same old you've read in every other review of Smith's work you've ever looked at - mine included - old-hat ‘insights’ about four sections, four characters, four-word titles. And I bet you're also thinking that to add gimmickry to banality, I've pulled this criticise-your-own-review stunt to distract attention from the sparseness of the content. You’re thinking I must be pretty desperate. And it’s true - I did despair of finding anything worth remembering as I stumbled my way through this book recently. While a character slowly read through a long medical questionnaire related to chronic fatigue syndrome - a definite narrative stunt if ever I saw one - I admit to having felt a certain Smith fatigue syndrome coming on, and I suspected that the number four might well become an unfortunately significant number for me in relation to Smith for ever more. The chronically fatigued character also had a habit of repeating banal advertisement jingles she half remembered from childhood, plus excerpts from hotel brochures, telephone directories and dictionaries. Or was that the homeless character, the one who liked to stuff her boots with newspaper (but only newspaper containing articles of some import)? A week after finishing, I’m inclined to jumble the characters’ thoughts and memories together. In fact I had a great need to hear their accents as well as their voices as I read so that I could better differentiate them. If there was ever a book that might be better as an audio book, this is it, because with this book there is no need to linger on beautifully phrased sentences as I like to do while reading. Instead, these scraps of interior monologue would work better read aloud, preferably by different people. However, since I only had words in front of me, and digitalised ones at that, which added to their insubstantiality somehow, I had to make do with imagining faces to go with the monologues as I read - it helped me keep track of what they were monologuing about. (What follows is an unnecessary bit of review filler you should feel free to skip as it’s just an opportunity for me to indulge myself - after all, Smith does it all the time with lists and brochures, etc).:

Now we've reached the final section of the review, it's time to turn it around again, resurrect it as it were - since Ali Smith likes resurrection themes so much. The spirit voice of the dead Sara rising from the tomb at the beginning of Hotel World recalls the voice of the resurrected fifteenth century artist in How to Be Both - and that isn’t the only resemblance between the two books. The main character in How to Be Both behaves very much like Sara's sister Claire in Hotel World, haunting the place where her family member used to work, sitting on the steps opposite, day in day out, watching, watching, watching. There is something very powerful about that kind of desperate watchfulness. It reminds us of the classic image of the faithful dog waiting beside the door his mistress last walked through, or sleeping on the grave where his master is buried. It is no coincidence that the monologue Smith gives Claire in the final section of the book is the most powerful of the four sections. There are no stunts, no gimmicks, no banalities in Claire's testimony. The dead girl is simply and powerfully resurrected by the detailed examination which her sister Claire carries out of her own memory of the years and months and days before Sara died. This section helped me relate to the earlier sections as well since Claire's testimony drew all the disparate strands together and gave new meaning to all the accumulated detail. I began to feel that Ali Smith doesn't need a theme or even a story. In all of her books, she is just mining her memory, her own and the communal one, the memory of everyone who lived in her time and her part of the world - those radio/tv jingles she mentions, the pop songs she references, all so familiar to many of us. It seems to me that Smith could just make a book out of her memories any time she wanted to. And I suspect that every time she did, a theme would emerge from it naturally, and that by grouping some of the memories in order to strengthen the significance of the theme, a viable novel would emerge every time. In Hotel World, the fact of a death, of death itself even, is the theme that makes a novel out of all the bits and pieces Smith has dredged from her memory and from her keen observation and recording of the details of life. It is as if the fact of the death right at the beginning compels a closer attention to life. And because Smith pays attention minutely to life, the death in this story is almost more vivid than any death in any other story I’ve ever read. 
Now that is something!
Profile Image for Doug H.
286 reviews
June 17, 2016
I loved this.

Sad subjects, gleeful writing. Playful and inventive. The most original thing I've read this year. Experimental yet completely accessible. Not a "difficult" book at all. It almost makes me want to try reading Virginia Woolf again. Honestly though, I think I like this author better.

The Pepto Bismal pink book cover is a shame. In fact, most of her book covers are a shame. They seem to scream "Ladies Only" and probably put most male readers off. If Ali Smith is a woman's writer, then call me Shirley and sign me up for the next one.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Lynne King.
490 reviews657 followers
November 3, 2014
The fall occurs at dawn.
Albert Camus

If I had not read MJ’s excellent review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), I would never have purchased this book as firstly, I had never heard of the author and secondly, this didn’t sound like my type of book at all. That’s the “problem” with Goodreads; there is too much choice and I seem to be continuously stumbling across new authors.

All one can possibly do in my case is to compare my purchase with a rather prized sweet in the sweet shop and to buy it on a whim. A bit of a hit and miss scenario. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Luckily I chose wisely this time.

Well I started reading this novel last night and I was completely frustrated with the first twenty-five pages. I was not enjoying it at all. It seemed all too vague in content and I was about to abandon it when I decided to give it another try. I don’t know if it was seeing the incredible beauty of the sun setting over the Pyrenean mountain range or what but I somehow seemed to see this book in a different light. I had seen the light and that’s for sure.

I’ve always loved the quote below by William Faulkner and it sprang to mind when I began to re-read this book.

Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

Yes I did initially think this book was bad and I had indeed been sorely tempted to throw it out of the window but what a dreadful mistake that would have been.

How can I even attempt to write this review? I feel I need to though because such beauty, sorrow and poignancy are portrayed in this multi-layered book and everyone needs to know about it.

I was nevertheless taken aback with the first paragraph:

hooooooo what a fall what a soar what a plummet what a dash into dark into light what a plunge what a glide thud crash what a drop what a rush what a swoop what a fright what a mad hushed skirl what a smash mush mash-up broken and gashed what a heart in my mouth what an end.
What a life.
What a time.
What I felt. Then. Gone.

Now this doesn’t sound very thrilling but persevere because you, the reader, are going to have the time of your life!

Well once again I encounter that remarkable "wretched stream-of-consciousness" that I'm not really a great lover of (Virginia Woolf immediately springing to mind) but somehow it worked very well here. I must confess that I felt like a voyeur travelling in a somewhat sleepy fashion at times through the book but it is an enthralling work.

The plot, if you can call it such, is based on five woman, who are either based/visiting the Global Hotel or outside and literally too.

Nineteen year old Sara Wilby has just started work at the Global Hotel as a chambermaid and dies in a rather unfortunate way there. Her dead teenage narrator is “floating around” and slowly losing her earthly ties. She is forgetting vocabulary and wants to find out how she fell before it is all too late. She knows this “thing” fell to the ground and killed her and as a result she attempts to have conversations with Sara down in the grave.

There are six sections in the book covering various time periods and four other women are gradually drawn into the equation and their lives are all examined in detail: Clare, Sara’s sister, who cries a lot and wants to find out how this accident happened; Else, a vagrant really, who lives outside the hotel but gets invited in for the night by the receptionist Lise and Penny, a journalist who’s on the outlook for a scoop.

All of the sections overlap and Ali Smith has done such a wonderful job here.

Drat, I really hate it when I love a work so much because then I cannot get the natural flow of the wording. I had the same problem with Lawrence Durrell and The Alexandria Quartet, my favourite book.

Nevertheless, I gave it my best shot!

Do read this book. No wonder it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction 2001.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,256 reviews451 followers
April 19, 2017
First: Thank you, Doug, for recommending this one to me. Playful and inventive and wonderful, everything you said is true.

"Remember you must live."
"Remember you must leave. "

A 20 year old girl dies when she plunges to the bottom of an elevator shaft while playing around in a hotel dumbwaiter. That doesn't sound like a premise for an exceptional novel, but in Ali Smith's hands that's exactly what it becomes. There are five viewpoints here, including that of Sara herself, as she recalls her death and the days immediately before and after. Her younger sister gets a say, as does the desk receptionist at the hotel, and a homeless woman and a young female reporter. The latter two women never knew her at all.
But everyone has a story, and stories have a way of bumping into each other and creating other stories.....ad infinitum.

Ali Smith brilliantly creates a unique voice and wordplay for each of these characters, getting us right into their heads, and, through the inserting of commercial jingles, TV shows, pop songs, and literary allusions, makes us realize that we are really all more alike than not, despite our ages and backgrounds. We are all connected, like it or not.

In this book, I liked it very much.
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews96 followers
January 21, 2021
Hotel World was quite the experience. Ali Smith certainly has talent asking with her unique writing style and a recognizable author's voice. The synopsis for it actually gives great insight into the core of this novel:

"Five disparate voices inhabit Ali Smith's dreamlike, mesmerising Hotel World, set in the luxurious anonymity of the Global Hotel, in an unnamed northern English city. The disembodied yet interconnected characters include Sara, a 19-year-old chambermaid who has recently died at the hotel; her bereaved sister, Clare, who visits the scene of Sara's death; Penny, an advertising copywriter who is staying in the room opposite; Lise, the Global's depressed receptionist; and the homeless Else who begs on the street outside. Smith's ambitious prose explores all facets of language and its uses. Sara takes us through the moment of her exit from the world and beyond; in her desperate, fading grip on words and senses she gropes to impart the meaning of her death in what she terms "the lift for dishes"--then comes a flash of clarity: "That's the name for it, the name for it; that's it; dumb waiter dumb waiter dumb waiter." Blended with hers are other voices: Penny's bland journalese and Else's obsession with metaphysical poetry."

The title, Hotel World, acts as a metaphor for life’s passage of time and the moments which escape us all too quickly. A hotel everyday, every hour, every moment is checking in a new guest or “life” just as quickly as one is checking out. In titling her novel Hotel World, Smith not only gives reference to the homogeneity imposed on society through hotel corporations, but as well emphasizes an impermanent or indefinite state in life. The question then arises of what life would be if we were mere observers, watching countless lives check in and out of this same predetermined world, this hotel world. Does the presence or absence of those we love then shape the moments that mould our world?

Themes of lesbianism (discovery, acceptance of said discovery), death, grieving, time, homogenous societies and class (as illuminated by the setting in a luxurious hotel) are explored.

Also notable is Smith's playfulness in regards to language. The chapters themselves, each told from a different point of view of each of the five characters, are further differentiated by being told in different literary points of view ("Past" for Sarah Wilby, the dumbwaiter who has died; "Present Historic" for Elspeth, the homeless girl panhandling outside the hotel, very ill; Lise, the hotel receptionist, whom invites Elspeth for a "complimentary" stay in one of Global Hotel's best rooms before she herself falls very ill and bedridden is told in "Future Conditional"; "Perfect" for Penny, there to review Global Hotel as a reporter; Sara's younger sister Clare Wilby narrates in the stem of consciousness style for the final part, "Present". Even more intriguing to me is that, as a psychology academic, I lived that each part, furthermore, seemed to relate to each of The Stages of Loss & Grief, as created by eminent psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I appreciated so many individual passages written in picturesque prose, visually vivid, by Smith. However, these were interwoven between many peeps in which my interest began, yet again, to wane. I am disappointed to report that it actually took a good Hundred pages for me to really become involved in the story, and it disappears again by the fourth chapter due to the stem of consciousness style, deterring to me, personally, used in the fourth part of the novel.

I have to note that I have read such great things about Ali Smith's work. Having several of her books in my queue for quite some time, this is finally my first foray into her writings. So I guess I s expecting to be overwhelmed in greatness, but was ultimately disappointed. Likely, I d underwhelmed in part because of my high expectations. Overall, however, a well written novel, worth reading for the literary styles, socioeconomic and cultural insights, and psychological astuteness.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books323 followers
December 29, 2019
While I appreciate Ali Smith's experimentation, I'm not a fan of the quotidian rhythm of her narrators. Whether they are waiting at the airport, or sitting around on their home computer, or flopping on the bed of a sleazy hotel room, I find myself waiting for something interesting to happen far too frequently. Many will find much appeal in Smith's wry and pointed, thought-provoking comments on society, but you can't escape the droll pace and lingering taste of inconsequential dread of the mundane that it leaves in your mouth. At least, that is my feeling after listening to a third audiobook by this author. Curiously, the best audiobook reader I've heard was Ali Smith herself.

The best parts of this book was the brooding on the topic of death and the unique perspectives. They added some variety, but you will never find a conventional thrill in one of her books. More likely, you will stumble through with the sensibility you have during those dreams, where you're in a public place, nothing is happening, but you are suddenly overcome with incomprehensible anxiety, or you're suddenly naked and dead - one or the other. Obviously, Ali Smith has garnered popularity and success through her slanted view of modern people and their foibles.

I find myself slightly drawn to her other titles, if only for the ease of listening they offer. I know what to expect by now. Some call this literary fiction. It seems to me more fiction of everyday life. A supernatural twist here and there isn't going to change these laundry lists into anything remotely resembling a spectacle.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
428 reviews220 followers
November 2, 2015
2.5 stars

Because it was October, I had campaigned for my book club to read something scary, but I was overruled and we ended up with Hotel World as the selection. I didn’t get my first choice, which would have been Frankenstein, although I did get a ghost story, but a sad one, not a scary one. Told, as Ali Smith’s stories often are, by different characters in alternating sections, the language and narrative structure of the book are creative, sometimes experimental, which is also in keeping with what I’ve come to expect from her. This one, however, was not as skillful or readable as the other Smith novels I’ve read.

The several characters are people employed by or having some other connection to a corporate chain hotel in an English city: A young female employee who has a tragic accident; a night reception clerk who extends a kindness to a young homeless woman; a guest who’s a PR writer on assignment; the deceased employee’s little sister.

While much of the writing was innovative and imaginative, much of it seemed to ramble and not all of the characters’ narratives seemed entirely relevant to the story or action. Some sections were over -done and there were passages and scenes that went on much too long. The various parts of this story did not hold together as cohesively as I would have liked, so, yes to the writing; no to the rambling. I was going to give this a 2-star rating, but the penultimate section, in spite of being a very stream-of-consciousness narration of the not-so-easy-to-read, run-on, no-punctuation variety, earned an extra half- star because it got to me. The little sister’s memories of her sibling, little everyday moments evoking the older girl’s loves and talents and potential, shared experiences, and sisterly squabbles, form an elegy and subtle expression of grief I found quite moving.

The whole story is a hymn to life, an admonition to appreciate the experience, existing as we do in the shadow of our mortality. “Carpe diem” resonates throughout Hotel World which the London Times called a book “imbued with a powerful sense of wonder at the minutiae of everyday sensuality.”

So it had its moments and it was in no way bad, but I do wish it were tighter and more focused. Even though it’s only 240 pages as-is, this would have been a better book if it was cut by at least a third, a novella perhaps. However, this was only Smith’s second novel and I’m willing to cut her some slack. Her themes and style as they became more refined in later books are here in nascent form and here again she gets into the heads of girls and young women as well as anyone I’ve read. The six sections of the book, each narrated with a different POV, were titled Past, Present Historic, Future Conditional, Perfect, Future in the Past, and Present, and I loved the way she wove motifs of time and timekeeping into the action to reflect a concern with temporality and mortality.

I’ll definitely continue to read Smith’s books and am looking forward to There But for the . . . . After loving The Accidental and How to Be Both, I’ve come to expect great things. This was an early effort, a good training ground, but not as great as her later novels. I already know that after this one, she got better. Much, much better.
Profile Image for Lucia Nieto Navarro .
740 reviews162 followers
December 6, 2022

Diria que es una novela... diferente, quizá por la manera de escribir de la autora o simplemente por la trama.

La novela esta estructurada en partes/ relatos, que corresponden a los personajes, en este caso, cinco personajes femeninos, cada una de ella contara una parte de su historia, que estará conectada de forma directa o indirectamente con el hotel.

Ambientado en el Londres del siglo XX, cinco extrañas, un fantasma y su hermana, una huésped, la recepcionista y una joven indigente, estas serán las cinco protagonistas de esta historia, que cruzan sus vidas en una noche en el hotel World.

El primer relato, el primer personaje es el que mas me ha gustado, una mujer muere y su espíritu va a visitar su cuerpo enterrado para que le recuerde como murió y que paso,... parece raro ¿no? pues así es la novela entera, diferente, rara...

Cada parte contada desde una perspectiva diferente, pero que todas hablan de temas como la soledad, la muerte, la enfermedad, la autora juega mucho con la sintaxis y las palabras, quizá es lo que me ha sacado tanto de la historia.

No habia leido nunca a la autora pero creo que no ha sido para mi, al menos con esta historia.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
559 reviews7,431 followers
February 20, 2015
A good, but nowhere near as good as her others, novel from one of my favourite authors Ali Smith. This is probably her most depressing novel, I mean, one of the narrators is literally a dead person. All the action takes place around a hotel, The Global Hotel. Even from the name of the hotel you can tell that this novel is full of metaphor for the human condition. Usually I like that sort of this but this one didn't do it for me. I'm kinda disappointed but I can't be mad at Ali. She's a brilliant modernist writer, probably the best still writing today.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
July 23, 2013
A character in Hotel World talks of manipulating people with stories. She'll tell lies to them about her life, stories designed to evoke sympathy and pity: she is an orphan, she was neglected by her parents, she was sexually abused by a family friend. The stories are tearjerkers, tropes designed to pull the heartstrings. Someone tells you a story like that and, unless you have no heart, you have to say, "Oh my god! How horrible for you!"

Well, my problem with Hotel World was that it felt exactly like one of those stories: teenage girl kills herself on realising that she is lesbian and her younger sister struggles to cope with the loss. It all culminates in the dead of a cold winter night when the younger sister visits the site of the suicide and, with the aid of three women, confronts her grief. Cue violins and sweeping music. How can you not sympathise? How can you not feel pity and sorrow?

That this story line was exploded out into five POVs each told in first person narrative—the ghost of the teenage girl, a homeless woman who ends up helping the younger sister, the receptionist at the hotel on the night the younger sister visits, a yuppie journalist staying at the hotel who also ends up helping the younger sister, the younger sister—did not for me make it any more than what it was: at best a superficial examination of the struggle to accept oneself and/or the struggle to cope with a devastating loss.

Insofar as Hotel World is a State of Union novel, I can understand its appeal. Its five different viewpoints collectively weave a criticism of the corporatisation of the United Kingdom (conflated with the world in the title) and its treatment of the marginalised. It is telling that the only unsympathetic character (both in terms of her lack of sympathy for others and in terms of our reaction to her) is the yuppie journalist. However, this too was for me superficial at best, a criticism ultimately reduced to a vapid Oprah-tic injunction to remember to love/live.

Much as I might agree with the sentiment, I rather wish that she had done something more with it than this novel.
Profile Image for Lea.
854 reviews178 followers
March 12, 2020
Reading Ali Smith I'm constantly asking myself "Am I liking this? Is this good? Do I just feel like it's supposed to be good because it's postmodern? Is the postmodernism annoying me so much I'm knocking it, even though I DO like it?"

So, there are always parts I like. Some I even like a lot. And that is always when the author lets us get close to a character. But you see, this is Literature with a capital l, so there is much stream and conciousness and lots of parts that are hard to understand on purpose. And the only purpose seems to be to make it harder to get. If I find myself wondering "wait is this section from the point of a ghost too or is that a random other woman?" and feel a little stupid for 'not getting it', it doesn't make me wanna dive it deeper, it makes me wanna hurl the book across the room.

Look, Ali Smith, I don't need a linear story to keep me satisfied, I really don't. But if I'm ALSO not getting insight into characters, or only for a second until you snatch them away from me again, all I'm left with is experimental writing for the sake of it. Which, uh, good for you, I guess, but that's just not my cup of tea. I need more than style.
Profile Image for Nate.
500 reviews48 followers
February 24, 2008
The plus side is that its probably my favorite book that's even been on the Booker Prize short list.

The bad side is that's not saying much.

Let me just start with 31 pages of unpunctuated stream of conscience writing. I was actually going along all right until I hit that character's chapter. I lasted three pages and skipped to the end. If I wanted to read something that was supposed to just alter my emotions, I'd read poetry. Just tell me the frickin story.

Then the last chapter was this nebulous string of descriptive verse with very little to do with the 5 main characters of the story and even less to do with the Hotel from the title.

I can go along for the ride okay if need be if I have some interesting character guides to show me the way. But I feel like Ali SMith ushered me straight through this beautiful premise and right out through the back alley.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,068 reviews1,093 followers
October 7, 2016
I didn't manage to really connect with the story behind Hotel World: the structure of the novel is ingenious, because it gradually becomes clear that the 5 women that are speaking to us all have a link with the same hotel, but the sequence of different writing styles is so ostentatious (see what I can!) that the story itself remains in the fog. OK, the social dimension (the perspective of different social classes in British society) is certainly recognizable, but it didn't "hit" me. Probably I'm still too much in a contemplative trance, initiated by reading "Austerlitz" by W.G. Sebald!
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,857 reviews1,370 followers
January 20, 2013
Bought this at the Strand on my heartbreak tour of NYC 2002. I enjoyed the fluid presence, the floating questions of motive, most of which were left unanswered. There is something spectral about these damaged souls. While walking in London eight months later, I found myself glimpsing those souls' reflections.
Profile Image for miciaus knygos | books & travel.
504 reviews95 followers
October 10, 2020
Idomi ta Ali Smith kuryba, kaip ir si knyga. Vietomis issamiai aprasoma aplinka, ivykiai, veikeju charakteriai savotiski, skaitant atrodo, kad esi UK ir dalyvauji ju gyvenime, stebi pasirinkimus itakojancius tolimesnius ivykius knygoje. Ivertinimas toks, nes kazko dar sioje knygoje truko, kazkaip atrodo, kad istorija nera visiskai isbaigta.
Profile Image for Greg Giannakis.
135 reviews14 followers
March 20, 2016
I never thought I'd say this but... I think Ali Smith's overtaken Murakami as my favourite author. Reading a book that makes you want to cry, curl up in a little ball and fills you with the most melancholy and bittersweet of happinesses is why I read in the first place. I don't know what to do with myself.

No one I've read yet has had such a powerful voice and view of the human experience. Every word she writes has a purpose and a necessity. My favourite Ali Smith yet.
Profile Image for andreea. .
544 reviews529 followers
June 9, 2021
4.5 stars.

"hooooo and this time I’d count as I went, one elephant two eleph-ahh) if I could feel it again, how I hit it, the basement, from four floors up, from toe to head, dead. Dead leg. Dead arm. Dead hand. Dead eye. Dead I, four floors between me and the world, that’s all it took to take me, that’s the measure of it, the length and death of it, the short goodb—."

hooooo and broke on the ground, I broke too. The ceiling came down, the floor came up to meet me. My back broke, my neck broke, my face broke, my head broke. The cage round my heart broke open and my heart came out. I think it was my heart. It broke out of my chest and it jammed into my mouth. This is how it began. For the first time (too late) I knew how my heart tasted."

Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews448 followers
August 5, 2018
Three books in and it’s official: I’m in love with Ali Smith. If you’d told me two years ago that I would love books written in a stream of consciousness style I’d have laughed in your face. I didn’t think it would work for me, and I can totally see why it doesn’t work for some others, but oh my, work it does!!
When I’m reading a book by Ali Smith I feel like a little bumblebee, the pages are my nectar and I’m bumbling from page to page, getting a wee bit intoxicated on all that sweet pollen-y goodness, sometimes I might get confused and hit a window (honestly I’ve lost track of this metaphor) but I’ll always come back in the end, addicted and ready for more! I find stream of consciousness so fun and quite easy to read actually, I get completely lost in the narrator’s thoughts and don’t even notice I’m turning the pages!
I realise now I’ve just talked about bees and not actually said anything about the book. Well it’s sort of 5 vignettes from 5 different perspectives of women whose lives all intersected in some minuscule way because of a hotel. I found it so fascinating how the tiniest, seemingly insignificant threads of our lives can edge into the lives of others... She has this creepy knack of totally nailing the minutiae of day-to-day life, I love it when a book makes me relate to the characters!
Hotel World was well on track to becoming one of my fave reads of the year, but apparently there’s a limit to my love of stream of consciousness and that limit was chapter 5: a 30 page chapter that’s one whole sentence. Don’t get me wrong, I still couldn’t tear my eyes away and it was a wonderful way of expressing the character’s grief, but I thought the other chapters were far better executed.
Now please excuse me while I go search for Smith’s entire bibliography.
Profile Image for Savvy .
178 reviews23 followers
June 3, 2008
Death by Dumbwaiter........."Woo-hooooooo"

Sara Wilby's tragic death, spiralling down in a dumbwaiter, begins with the voice of Sara's 'gossamer ghost'.
We see her desperate to understand what just happened.
Her death affects other women bound up in this rather curious ghost tale. And then each, in turn, relates their personal story.

Hotel World is a story of the power of time, how quickly time can turn us from living to dead, sane to mad, happy to sad, secure to homeless, rich to poor, healthy to sickly, and how we swim through the fog of finite time.

Time is omnipresent and of great importance to the story.

Life can end in a heartbeat!...Live freely and passionately in the time you inhabit...now, the present!

The heaviness of the prose gave this work the sensation of swimming through metaphors that could not be rushed. One had to come up for air from time to time to continue the breaststroke forward.

Ms. Smith plays quite skillfully with words that are at times so amusing and clever that I had to stifle a chuckle. It's hard not to delight in the ingenuity of this novel, despite wanting more plot, more character development, more cohesiveness in sentence structure.
Profile Image for Laura.
748 reviews270 followers
February 15, 2019
I very rarely DNF a book. This was my first by Ali Smith. It started out as a five star, or close to five star read, which is why I'm disappointed, to say the least.

We visit five people who are all connected to a ritzy hotel in a city. The first died there, and is now a ghost. That chapter, which was a long one, was riveting and I loved it. I was ready to read everything this author wrote.

The second person is a homeless person who sets up nearby the hotel. Her story was less interesting, but still impactful and I was motivated to go on. Once we got to the third person, it became, for me, less and less coherent, and I decided I didn't want to put myself through it anymore.

Because it started out so strongly, I would consider reading another by her, but if it's going to be incoherent psychobabble, you can count me out.

On to the next!
Profile Image for Christopher.
272 reviews89 followers
January 2, 2016
To me this is a book of associations and benefits from a hermeneutic reading in its simple methodological sense. I hope to avoid being apophantic, jargon heavy, or avuncular, but I have a feeling that is precisely my tendency. So, sorry if you read this.

I would encourage the prospective reader to push past the first section in which the dead girl speaks to her own body. It didn't work for me, a bit of a juvenile, Cartesian conceit. Yet, the rest is very fine prose indeed. Especially the last narration proper. So, when you finish your read and grapple with the whole, the result is well worth any of the early brow-wrinkle-eye-roll.

Hotel Song: Regina Spektor: Obvious
Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: The sections narrated by the different characters don't feel to me an attempt to capture their voices. The sections are not so much spoken by the characters. Instead they seem to be the writer allowing the reader to enter the consciousness of the characters.
Heidegger: Aletheia might have been an appropriate character name. I couldn't help thinking of the being-toward-death and the being-in-the-world side of the homeless woman, the front desk worker, the sister, the journalist. When each faces each I felt briefly pulled into the clearing.
Dostoevsky: Brothers K: Lise: Perhaps this one is invalid.
August Wilson: Piano Lesson: Palpability of ghosts: This is just me, I know. But it reminds me of a conversation I had about how to interpret ghosts in literature. You can't deny ghosts at least the reality-attribute of tangibly impacting the lives of those who believe or are receptive. The idea is a thing. Sit down Bishop Berkeley, I didn't quite call on you, now did I? Fuck sake.

My first Ali Smith, but there will be more.

3.7/5 (rounds up)
Profile Image for Trin.
1,785 reviews558 followers
July 2, 2016
The lives of five women intersect at a hotel in an unnamed English city. This is the kind of book for which the term literary fiction was invented: Smith is totally getting her Virginia Woolf on, with steam-of-consciousness being just the tip of the iceberg. There were parts that I found really quite moving—the opening section is told from the point of view of a ghost, and I am sucker for stuff like that—but often I found all the stylistic fanfare frustrating. After a certain point, it makes me want to shout Just tell the frickin’ story already!

I’m left undecided about how effective this complicated, dense novel really is. While there are experimental novels I truly love—Woolf’s To the Lighthouse being one of them—in general, I do prefer a certain elegant simplicity. Even with its occasional shining moments, with so much going in Hotel World, one kind of has to wonder if there’s really all that much there there.
Profile Image for vivliovision.
16 reviews
August 14, 2016

"Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in."

Worstward Ho

Ali Smith knows how to make her very own wounds blossom. Her prose is strong, at moments heartbreakingly funny, and allusive.

The main character of "Hotel World" is a haunting spectre; a broken voice with a story; a cluster of faint memories of a past life, of a past love, which come to the surface only to be forgotten one by one; a posthuman narrator as stitched together as Sally in the "Nightmare before Christmas". In her case, though, there's no Christmas, no Halloween, no Jack either.

If you listen attentively to her fading-out voice, you may hear too some middle-class parents yelling at the top of their lungs: "you are dead to us!" But why'd they render such a terrible verdict on their own daughter? You've guessed it right—you've got to read the story to find that out.

Profile Image for Adam.
407 reviews139 followers
April 8, 2018
Almost perfect. Inventive, sagacious, gorgeous, piercing. My one quibble is the "ghost" trope. I would have liked to see that handled differently. But hardly detracts from the abundant dazzle radiating from these quilted time-space-grammar vignettes. Smith has an eye for the moments, objects, and words we unknowingly shed as we move through life and how this detritus floats around the peripheral field of others, sometimes becoming central. Thankfully she has the ear to find the prose to put it in, too.
Profile Image for Alessia Scurati.
325 reviews85 followers
April 22, 2018
La faccio breve: non mi ha entusiasmato.
Credo di non essere proprio entrata nella storia.
Quello che più mi piace di Ali Smith è come scrive. Sempre. Le storie sono raccontate in modo originali, con delle strutture narrative estreme.
In Hotel World, secondo me, è troppo estrema la struttura di questa polifonia femminile tra flashback e fast forward. Troppo preponderante rispetto alla storia in sé. Ne esce una struttura sofisticatissima, ma complicata.
Per me più che complicata: indigesta.
A un certo punto, non ne potevo più. A un certo punto mi sono persa.
Peccato, per me. Ovvio.
Siccome ho altri 3 romanzi in casa della Smith, riproverò con un altro.
Questo non era quello giusto per me. Capita.
Profile Image for Prem Sylvester.
250 reviews27 followers
August 26, 2020
Despite the pop vibrance of the cover, this is a book about death. Not simply death as tragedy, or the 'end.' It flits through the liminal space between death and life, death and love, fate and will. It is about those who live like death is a myth, like suffering is an unknowable. It is about those times when we pass by death like ships in the night. It is about the detritus and surviving of death.

So then, it is as much about life.

remember you must live
remember you most love
remainder you mist leaf
Profile Image for Jill.
422 reviews220 followers
February 19, 2017
There's a lot to say about this one, but I'm most impressed by how Smith structures her books. To organize There But For The into sections by word; Hotel World into verb tenses --- somehow never comes off pretentious; somehow lends a real and important new layer of interpretation. Her understanding of humanity and the time in which she's living goes beyond what you can explain in narration. What a palate cleanser.
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