Hotel World

Ali Smith

Hotel World

Ali Smith

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Hotel World Summary

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Hotel World is a novel by Scottish author Ali Smith, first published by Hamish Hamilton in 2001. Written in a postmodernist style, the story centers on five women whose destinies bring each of them to the luxurious Global Hotel. Each woman tells her own story, revealing herself as a different metaphor for one of the five stages of the grieving process—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Hotel World received a nomination for the Man Booker Prize and won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the Encore Award.

The story opens as nineteen-year-old swimmer Sara Wilby describes her death. As she attempted to climb into the dumbwaiter of the Global Hotel, she lost her footing and plummeted down the shaft. Now, six months later, Sara is a ghost, visiting all the spots she once frequented in life, still trying to make sense of her death, and losing the sense of what it was like to be alive. She explains that she haunted her family for a period but, quickly growing bored by the endeavor, abandoned it.

Sara remembers visiting her body, buried underground, and having a conversation with it; it was during this discussion that her body reminded her that just before her death, Sara fell in love with a young woman who worked in a store selling watches. Then, on Sara's second shift working at the Global Hotel, the dumbwaiter accident happened. Sara had made a wager with another hotel employee that she could fit inside the contraption. It had all been a silly and senseless accident.

Sara visits various rooms in the hotel, where she sees other young women, including the girl working at the front desk, who is sick but not yet aware of that fact, and a homeless woman sitting outside.

The homeless woman is Elspeth, or Else, and she narrates the next chapter. Else has trouble panhandling because another sad girl, stationed across the street, claims most of the charity from passersby. Lise, who works at the Global Hotel, comes outside and offers Else a room for the night. Else steals the change from the girl across the street, then accepts Lise's offer. Once in her room, Else draws a bath and counts her coins, but she soon frets about her blankets, which she left outside—and it has now started to rain. Else quickly flees.

Lise is the young woman Sara saw at the front desk of the hotel. In her narration of the following chapter, which takes place six months later, Lise is too sick to even get out of bed. As she awaits her mother's regular visit, Lise reflects on the night she gave Else the room at the hotel. She had first seen Else at Sara's funeral. Lise also reveals that Duncan, the boy with whom Sara made the bet that led to her death, still comes to work but hides in the lost-and-found cabinet most of the time. On the night she gave Else a room, Lise checked in another guest as well, a woman dressed in chic business attire.

That woman, Penny, narrates the next chapter. She is a writer who has come to the Global Hotel to write a review. Procrastinating writing her article, she sets out to find something to occupy her mind. A girl is in the hall, trying to pull a series of boards off the wall. As Penny helps her, Else runs out of her room, which is now flooding because of the running bathwater. Else sees that the girl in the hall fiddling with the boards is the sad girl from the street, so she empties from her pockets the coins she stole from the sad girl.

Just then, Penny and the girl get the boards free from the wall, revealing the dumbwaiter shaft behind it. The girl tosses a few random items down the shaft, then starts crying. Else decides to keep half the coins and leave the girl the other half. Else and Penny exit the hotel together and walk around town.

The sad girl, Clare Wilby, is Sara's sister. She tells her story in the book's final chapter. Lise, from the front desk, finds her crying in the hallway. Lise comforts Clare and introduces her to Duncan, who tells Clare how Sara died. This is news to Clare because she, like most people, assumed Sara committed suicide. As a means of making good on his wager with Sara, Duncan pays Clare the money he originally bet her. Clare then joins Lise for breakfast. Having received answers about her sister's strange death, Clare gains a sense of closure and some of her sadness lifts. For the first time, she feels hopeful about the future.

The day begins for each of the five women whose lives briefly intersected at the Global Hotel. Sara, Else, Lise, Penny, and Clare begin their respective mornings.
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