Hotel World by Ali Smith | Book Review

Hotel World cover

Hotel World tells the stories of five women whose lives are intertwined by a single luxury hotel. The first, Sara, died in a tragic accident while working in the hotel, and her spirit floats around the living world, gradually forgetting words and memories of her life whilst her body decomposes in its grave. The second, Else, is homeless; she sits outside the front of the hotel trying to control her raucous coughing while collecting spare change from those who pass her by.

Lise, the third woman, is the hotel receptionist – or at least she was before she was struck down with an illness which has made her bedbound. The fourth character is Penny, an unempathetic hotel critic who finds herself fascinated with Else until she realises she is homeless. Finally, there’s Clare, sister of Sara who is obsessed with understanding the intricate details of her sister’s death in order that she can come to terms with it.

It sounds like a maudlin story and there’s no doubt that it’s sad, but it isn’t without warmth, humour and hope. Each chapter gets right inside the heads of the characters, showing us their good points, their bad points and how they fit into the life and death of Sara and the operation of the hotel. At the same time, the hotel seems to be a representation of society, and we see how the women fit into society at large via their roles in the hotel microcosm. There’s a hierarchy at play – an unfair one – and we get to see it through the eyes of five women who each fit in at a different level.

There’s so much to unpack in Hotel World that I don’t think I’ll ever really do it justice with this review. I think, actually, I could do with a second read to really get the most from it. The book is filled with small observations of people and society and the way that life passes us by in a blink and then it’s gone. It’s beautifully written, packed full of vivid imagery and characterisation, and it’s structured so cleverly to tell the overarching story of Sara’s death and her sister’s grief, while getting us invested in the individual stories of the other three characters.

Sometimes books like this – postmodern, literary novels – can be “difficult” reads. They don’t always offer me the sense of joyful escapism that genre fiction does. But that wasn’t the case with Hotel World. It flows so easily and with so much charisma that I was hooked from the first page. It’s a book that will stay with me and one I definitely want to find time to read again.

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2 thoughts on “Hotel World by Ali Smith | Book Review

  1. Sounds a super-interesting novel and definitely my sort of book. Thanks for giving us all the heads up about it, and do carry on reviewing. Wow, I think that sounds like an old British comedy film!

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