anybody who has ever stayed in a hotel, worked in a hotel,
longed to check into a hotel", says the back cover.
despite the tantalisingly cosmopolitan title and sweeping
blurb, Ali Smith's Hotel World is hardly an attempt
to depict the empty life-cycle of the global jetsetter.
the only voice present is that of the Everywoman of Blairite
Britain. Or five of her faces anyway. And they are all white.
Each of the novel's five chapters (named after grammatical
tenses -- Past, Present, Future Perfect, etc) is a different
woman's narrative take on her life around the Global Hotel.
Each is a rant about loss, loneliness, time and the essentially
solipsistic nature of existence. Not unlike the ensemble
movie Four Rooms, only with less blood.
is a hotel of a life, true, yet coloured too deeply by the
British obsession with class struggle -- a trait Smith herself
admits in one interview.
woman is a homeless street-dweller, another a high-rolling
lifestyle journalist. Their paths cross awkwardly in one
can almost hear the novel straining to make the right social
noises before falling back into the usual excuses for a
lack of connection between the two: People are selfish and
Smith's prose can be lyrical and exhilarating. The opening
chapter -- a giddy account by the ghost of chambermaid Sara
Wilby -- is one long riff of sensory overload and linguistic
you are a fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, Sara
sounds suspiciously like Delirium, only more verbose.
charming are her intriguing lapses in vocabulary, as the
ghost loses her grip on the hard-and-fast facts of her life.
It is a cheeky yet poignant tour de force and an apt metaphor
for unstable human memory and identity: "Remember you
must live. Remember you most love. Remainder you mist leaf."
other sections fall short, even in such games of craft.
Sara's sister has a whole obsessive wail of a section to
herself -- a chapter-long stream-of-consciousness without
is fascinating for all of five minutes before fading into
tedium. Sure, sister, grief can be overwhelming and life
is tough. That does not make it good writing.
Hotel World, history, like the English language,
is a British invention. It is haunted by ghosts, each clamouring
to be heard at the same time as life incarcerates us all
in the poor cell of our own heads.
the novel's central premise -- metaphysical wordplay aspiring
to insight on the nature of time, language and the transience
of relationships -- is glaringly derivative, and hardly
as experimental these days as it purports. Others have gone
further and done it better.
it is not a bad read. Smith has an eye for linguistic and
narrative detail which makes it pleasurable to pick at the
small picture for petty treats and neat turns of phrase.
Not always too clever by half, just enough to disappoint.
Hotel World is on the Booker shortlist is the clearest
evidence yet of the committee's attempt to make the venerable
literary award hip with the public, by picking bright young
writers. Still, there are better and more ambitious contenders