Sunday, 29 November 2009

Hotel World by Ali Smith

Hotel World is less of a novel, and more of a collection of interlinked short stories but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. As you can probably tell, I really, really liked this! I wasn't sure I would, it was supposed to be the book I dipped in and out of at spare moments but it was impossible to put down once I'd started!

It is the stories of five different people who have a connection with the Global Hotel in one particular town. We have a Polly, a self absorbed hotel guest, Lise, the receptionist, a homeless girl who begs outside the hotel but does spend the night in a hotel room, a girl who died in an accident in the hotel and the dead girl's sister. Throughout the novel the slight connections between the five people are gradually revealed through the narratives of each person. All the narratives are told in the first person, and simply through the language used to characterise them we get a really in-depth character study, in what are actually quite short narratives.

It is the dead girl we hear from first, and it was her narrative that I found most interesting. She's obviously been dead for a while, and is aware she is fading from the world.

"Hurry up. Sleep is coming. The colours are going. I saw that the traffic was colourless today......I saw the places where green used to be. I saw almost no reds, and no blues at all. I will miss red. I will miss red and green."

So we learn about her death from her own perspective, although at one point she goes down into her body underground, and that's when she has most clarity. As her disembodied self, she is forgetting words and events. She is most concerned that she cannot remember the word for heated bread! I loved the idea of body and soul being separate, and the clarity only coming when they are re-united.

Words and language are used to define each of the characters in this book. The dead girl is losing her language as she loses herself. it is almost as if identity is created by language, and language created by identity. A homeless girl doesn't use language and herself says she has no need for vowels. She talks in a very shortened form, the most common being 'sp sm ch' for spare some change.

"She imagines the pavement littered with all the letters that fall out of the half words she uses (she doesn't need the whole words)"

This girl is almost as much as out of society as the dead girl, although very much alive. Her position as homeless and jobless means she doesn't need to use language, as she has no real identity. This theme continues with the receptionist who falls sick and cannot find the language to fill in the forms she needs, and the self obsessed journalist, but she uses words to create her identity. She is nothing without her job, and if she can't think of the words to write she has no identity either!

The different characters in the story are all expressed and described through the language they use, and none more so than the dead girl's sister, whose whole chapter is written without punctuation. This makes it tough to read, but does give an insight into her state of mind following her sisters death, more than any descriptive prose could.

I also loved the idea of everything in this book being interconnected. As I said earlier, these connections are introduced gradually, with each character coming into contact with the other characters, and eventually we know how they all impact on each other. It is only small, fleeting events, but they have a huge effect on lives. It was a brilliant book, and all these complex inter-personal relationships are set against the backdrop of a global hotel chain, where the main boast is that it doesn't matter where you are in the world, a Global hotel would be the same. It's definitely a not so subtle way of commenting that commercialism and familiarity doesn't and can't replace individuality and small acts of kindness between strangers.


Dot said...

I haven't heard of this one but it sounds really good, great review!

The Reader said...

I love books that are interlinked short stories, your review makes me want to write about The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis. I'm actually going to do that now!

The Reader
I'm a Bookworm

Anonymous said...

You make this sound quite wonderful. I've looked at this in the library and wondered, and I thinknow that I really must bring it home next time it appears. thank you!