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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Hotel World's painful prose
Hotel World
Hotel World: Seen through the eyes of five women
By BBC News Online's Helen Bushby

Ali Smith's Hotel World is certainly a challenging read - not least because her writing style takes a bit of getting used to.

She is obviously a talented, original writer, detailing a night in the lives of five women in a hotel, one of whom is dead.

But it tends to drag after its opening.

The book is written through the eyes of each character, and the more disjointed their lives feel, the tougher the prose is to read.

She relies heavily on using stream of consciousness to illustrate the free-ranging thoughts of some of her characters.

Although the literary device can sometimes be effective, it did not do much to enhance this novel. It was difficult not to be exasperated by a 36-page chapter in which a single sentence runs and runs without stopping.

Ali Smith
Ali Smith: Was shortlisted for Orange Fiction Prize 2001
The opening of the novel is by far its finest moment - the ghost of a girl who worked in a hotel is reliving her dying moments, when she plummeted to her death after curling up in a dumb waiter.

After remembering the exhilaration of falling - "Woooooooooooo-

hoooooooooo" - she tells us her senses and memory are dulling as time passes.

In order to piece together what happened before she died she visits her own corpse, persuading it to talk by picking at its stitches.

The ghost departs with a poignant message: "Remember you must live".

Profound

But what followed was a disappointment.

The other four characters in the book, who each have their own chapter, are all connected to the hotel in some way.

A street beggar spends a free evening inside its plush walls after being let in by the receptionist, who dozed off just as the dead girl's sister sneaked in to see where she died. They all encounter the journalist who will write about her stay there.

The reader is given unlimited access to each character's internal life, with their thoughts - from the most trivial to the most profound - laid out in minute detail.

Impact

Although the five women are intriguing and occasionally raise a smile, Smith slows the pace of the book by overloading a couple of chapters with far too much information from inside her characters' heads.

Although this is the nature of stream of consciousness prose, it has to be written extremely carefully so it doesn't become boring.

But despite this Smith's book made an impact and will not be quickly forgotten - although not perhaps for the right reasons.

See also:

28 Sep 01 | Arts
Carey favourite for Booker
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