Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Ali Smith, 'Hotel World'

As with 'A Handful of Dust', this novel was thrust to my attention by my creative writing lecturer ('how do you lecture about creative writing?' I hear you ask, well, it's interesting) as part of my reading list - the books that were put on there all handled setting/characterisation/structure/narration in a different way, for inspiration. And this text was the only one on the list, in fact the only book I have ever read, that moved me to tears. 

Smith's writing is impeccable; the novel is split into five sections, with a different woman in charge of each one - each has her own quirks, own habits of speech, own devastating aspects of their past or future. By the end of their chapter, each character feels like your friend, and then you realise you still know hardly anything about them at all and everything is still a delicious mystery.

'Hotel World' floats around the story of a young girl who came to an accidental and horrific end whilst working in a hotel, and the sometimes random people who were directly and indirectly involved with her. The part that made me cry was that belonging to the dead girl's younger sister after she has been left sisterless in a home still reeling from the tragedy. Her narrative, at first, is very difficult to read, in the continuous, rapid, breathless monologue of a troubled teenage girl. Sentences last forever, thoughts bleed into each other, she says 'like' a lot. She has so much to say, so many thoughts she wants to write and so many about her sister she wants to block out. Her grief  and the things it makes her do, which she realises are 'mad', are completely relatable for anyone who has experienced loss, and the honesty with which she talks about it grabs you round the throat. Granted, when I read her section I was very sleep deprived and hungover, but I maintain that it was moving enough to wrench at my stomach from being in the happiest of moods.

Without giving everything away, some other aspects are also worth mentioning. We hear from the dead girl herself, Sarah, who describes some very thought provoking experiences one may have after death; choosing who to appear to, forgetting things about when you were alive because you're not that person any more. There is both a comfort and distress in it. 

I am planning to re-read this book whenever I have time to, as I think it would be even better second time around - there is so much packed in to every sentence that I am sure to have missed things.

I would recommend this read to anyone, it hits you - not just like a breath of fresh air, but like a slap in the face, a startling, brilliant slap in the face. You need it sometimes.

Ali Smith, 'Hotel World' - 5/5

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