Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A finalist for the Booker Award in 2001, Ali Smith's fiction debut is a truly inventive narrative that is told through the voices of a handful of different characters. Among them is the 19-year-old hotel chambermaid Sara Wilby, who, in a fleeting moment of terrible imprudence, wagered a coworker that she could fit her entire body into the hotel dumbwaiter. She did, but under her weight the cables snapped, and in a matter of seconds she fell four floors to a violent death.
However, readers meet Sara only after her fatal error in judgment; now she is a ghost wandering the scene of her accident, desperate to experience again even a few precious moments of earthly existence. From her incorporeal vantage point, Sara is able to observe both the daily lives and future destinies of her family and her former coworkers, all of whom struggle to come to terms with her foolish act -- without quite realizing that in doing so, they will allow Sara to move on as well. As her energies begin to wane, the ghostly Sara becomes obsessed with learning just one last thing: exactly how long it took for her to die. To accomplish this, fate must play a different hand, bringing five unrelated people from very different walks of life together in the typically transient setting of an urban hotel.
Ali Smith's explicit, unsentimental prose and brilliantly precise descriptions
of the disassociative, catastrophic, but
also redemptive aftermath of a sudden death make Hotel World at once a challenging, sad, beautiful, and ultimately comforting love-
and life-affirming novel. (Winter 2002 Selection)
To her considerable credit as a writer, Smith manages to have her characters approach these grim subjects in moods of humor and unselfconscious bumbling, which makes Hotel World a greatly appealing read.
Washington Post Book World
Hotels provide ideal microcosms of the
world; from the lowliest
cleaner to the most
glamorous guest, they
have the effect of bringing strangers from different
Ali Smith’s second novel is a series of stories
connected by the spirit of a dead chambermaid who,
a few months earlier, squeezed herself into a
dumb-waiter for a dare and plummeted to her death.
A female tramp, a depressive receptionist, a bored
journalist and the sister of the dead girl all tell their
tales as their lives intersect one night at the Global
From the epigraphs on, the novel echoes with
Modernist influences. Sara’s death creates an
absence at the heart of the book like the now closed
shaft through the middle of the hotel. Her prose is
broken by omissions and ellipses, forgotten words
and painful memories.
As in her previous fiction, Smith experiments with
time, wittily dividing the novel into tenses as the
narrative moves backwards and forwards, forever
drawn back to the same fateful evening. Each
character’s narrative evolves into an unconventional
love story but, though Sara’s ghostly playfulness
makes it hard to be deeply saddened by her plight in
the afterlife, the novel comes together in its joyful
message of continuity and hope.
When it was published in the U.K. earlier this year, the latest offering from Scottish writer Smith (Free Love) was made an Orange Prize finalist and shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. Featured are five women whose lives (and a death) overlap at the Global Hotel, a generic establishment in an unnamed city in England. The novel begins with Sara, a chambermaid who plummeted to her death in one of the hotel's dumbwaiters, as her ghost tries to recollect what it was like to be alive. Else, a homeless woman who sits on the concrete in front of the hotel, is invited by Lise, the receptionist, to stay for a free night. Penny, a freelance travel journalist thrown into the mix, looks for ways to curb her boredom and unwittingly helps Sara's sister, Clare, in her search for Sara's spirit. Smith expertly fuses humor and pathos throughout the novel. When Sara's ghost visits her corpse in the grave, it's none too happy to see her; when it won't answer her questions, she harasses it by singing songs from West End musicals. And when the disgruntled Lise lets Else into the hotel, she contemplates throwing in a free breakfast, as an extra snub to her employers. Smith's narrative style varies with each character and is generally exciting and quite successful, although some readers will find the acrobatics tiring. The connections she makes between the characters across class lines and even across the line between life and death are driven home in a beautifully lyrical coda. National advertising. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A heartfelt and introspective ghost story, Hotel World begins at the end and works backward and then meanders some in between. Readers first witness the accidental death of Sara Wilby, a hotel chambermaid who is also the narrator of the story. In an attempt to make sense of her demise, she comes back as an apparition at her own funeral and relives earlier events. While Sara's parents enter a catatonic state, her sister Clare is propelled by her grief into finding answers and reconciliation. She stakes out a spot near the hotel where she can sit daily and observe the commerce going on in the hotel and the nearby shops. So, too, does a homeless woman, Else, who begs for spare change. These and other characters come together in a tender, moving story of innocence, love, and kindness. This first novel was short-listed for the 2001 Orange Prize. Smith's beautiful, unpretentious writing mesmerizes. Highly recommended. Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A prizewinner back home, Scotland-born Smith (Like) offers a verbally high-speed tale of a girl's death that may touch some but will seem mainly airy to others. It was shortlisted for the 2001 Orange Prize-as it is now for the Booker. At 19, Sarah Wilby is a promising competitive swimmer, is newly infatuated with a shopgirl but hasn't yet said anything, and has a new job as chambermaid at the Global Hotel in a smallish English city. Then, just like that, she winks out. She bets a coworker five quid she can squeeze into a dumbwaiter, does it-and falls from top of hotel to bottom. The remainder of the novel-after a section where dead Sarah herself drifts around to looks things over ("I went to the funeral to see who I'd been")-consists of chapters, often interior monologue-like, about or by people who were near the scene or connected to Sarah. There's hotel's deskgirl, Lise, for example, who later falls deathly ill, but first, deathly bored by her job, derides the hotel's corporate ownership by giving a room to a homeless person; the homeless person has previously had a long chapter of her own (before you know who she is), as will an utterly ditzy journalist who stays in the hotel and thus meets up not only with the homeless lady but with Sarah's kid sister Clare (none of us yet knows who she is), who's come to grieve by prying open the dumbwaiter shaft and having a look down. Etc. The pieces do finally come together, yet all remains oddly mechanical, no matter how many words and pages accumulate, and accumulate, and accumulate. One feels as though Smith were taking as long as possible on as little as possible to make things seem as important as possible. "Lise breathed out. Then she breathed in." "Outside, in the world, people still walked about and did things. For example, they went shopping." Long riffs on a theme, presented like a puzzle.
Ali Smith has got style, ideas, and punch. Read her.”–Jeanette Winterson
“Hotel World is everything a novel should be: disturbing, comforting, funny, challenging, sad, rude, beautiful.—The Independent (London)
“In this voice from beyond the grave Ali Smith has created the perfect literary ghost…imbued with a powerful sense of wonder at the minutiae of everyday sensuality…and her beautiful, vivid descriptions are reinforced by a sharp, unsentimental tongue.”–The Times (London)
"Ali Smith's remarkable novel HOTEL WORLD....is a greatly appealing read. Smith is a gifted and meticulous architect of character and voice."—The Washington Post
"The heart of Scottish writer Ali Smith may belong to good old-fashioned metaphysics -- to truth and beauty and love beyond the grave -- but her stylistic sensibility owes its punch to the Modernists. She's street-savy and poignant at once, with a brutal sense of irony and a wonderful feel for literary economy. There's a kind of stainless-steel clarity at the center of her fiction. . ."—The Boston Globe
"HOTEL WORLD is that rare experiment, a novel with style to spare . . . despite all the tricks, all the tweaks of language and literature, what you remember about HOTEL WORLD is Smith's evocation of the anguish that results when a life ends, her rendering of the sadness at separating from the living world and the loneliness of staying behind. What a death. What a life. What a book."--San Antonio Express-News
". . . in Smith's hands, this slender plot serves as an excuse for a delightfully inventive, exuberant, fierce novel of which the real star is not the dead Sara, or any of the living characters, but the author's vivid, fluent, highly readable prose. HOTEL WORLD was a well-deserved finalist last year for two prestigious British prizes: the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize. . . . I can't begin to paraphrase all that this dazzling book conveys about humanity and mortality . . ."
– Margot Livesey, Newsday
"Ali who? Hotel what? Even for people who follow contemporary British literature, neither the name nor the title meant a lot. They do now. HOTEL WORLD makes a striking impression. It's a challenging, often bleak but affecting journey through the lives of four young women united by the death of another . . . What an introduction to Ali Smith.
– Minneapolis Star Tribune
"HOTEL WORLD is that rare experiment, a novel with style to spare . . . despite all the tricks, all the tweaks of language and literature, what you remember about HOTEL WORLD is Smith's evocation of the anguish that results when a life ends, her rendering of the sadness at separating from the living world and the loneliness of staying behind. What a death. What a life. What a book."
"HOTEL WORLD is compelling . . . precisely because it suggests shifting yet coherent perspectives rather than simplifying lives into rigid, inert realities. Most impressively, Smith has mastered sophisticated literary techniques, which never intrude or bog down a delectable narrative of human perception and rumination. Apart from establishing Ali Smith as a novelist with the skills of a Martin Amis and Samuel Beckett combined, HOTEL WORLD is a damn good read." –The San Francisco Chronicle
"Wonderfully inventive and boldly lyrical, HOTEL WORLD is an exhilarating read. A chambermaid careens to her death in a broken dumbwaiter, and her dissipating spirit sings a paean to earthly existence. . . . Newly published in the U.S., Ali Smith's thrilling meditation on life, transience, class, and the material world was an Orange Prize finalist and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize." –INSIDE BORDERS
“Courageous and startling. I doubt that I shall read a tougher or more affecting novel this year.” –Jim Crace