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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hotel World

Ali Smith

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To purchase Hotel World

Title: Hotel World
Author: Ali Smith
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001
Length: 238 pages
Availability: Hotel World - US
Hotel World - UK
Hotel World - Canada
Hotel World - India
Hôtel Univers - France
Im Hotel - Deutschland
  • Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize
  • Shortlisted for the 2001 Orange Prize

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Our Assessment:

B+ : varied, clever novel, with some excellent flashes

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic Monthly A 1/2002 Brooke Allen
Daily Telegraph . 31/3/2001 Helen Brown
Evening Standard A 1/20/2001 J. Boyd Maunsell
The Guardian . 14/4/2001 Giles Foden
The Independent A+ 31/3/2001 Carol Birch
The LA Times D 8/2/2002 Bernadette Murphy
New Statesman . 21/5/2001 Vicky Hutchings
The NY Times Book Rev. D 3/2/2002 Michael Upchurch
Salon . 21/2/2002 Charles Taylor
San Francisco Chronicle A 3/2/2002 Alexandra Yurkovsky
The Spectator A 13/10/2001 Claudia FitzHerbert
The Times . 4/4/2001 Melissa Katsoulis
TLS . 23/3/2001 Ruth Scurr
The Washington Post A 22/1/2002 Chris Lehmann

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very positive -- with a few emphatic exceptions

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hotel World is one of those rare books that are simultaneously sad and hopeful. Smith maintains a rhapsodic pace that slackens, very slightly, only toward the end of the narrative." - Brooke Allen, The Atlantic Monthly

  • "Our relationship with the five women is frustratingly superficial. Maybe Smith was trying to make a point about our failure to connect with the world during the short time we have on this planet before we check out." - Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph

  • "Avoiding any semblance of plot, Smith prefers to follow the wild daydreams and complex interior lives of her characters, and to pursue her own playful ideas and imaginings. And, somehow, she pulls it off magnificently." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard

  • "(T)he story is handled very knowingly. In fact, I have never seen the tenets of recent literary theory (the impossibility of the coherent subject, or substantive character, for instance) so cleverly insinuated into a novel. (...) For all its radical virtues, many readers will find Smith's a difficult book to swallow." - Giles Foden, The Guardian

  • "Smith's sidelong approach to plot produces an overall effect of a pebble dropped into water, echoed in recurrent images of fallings both physical and emotional. (...) She is an extremely readable, easy-flowing writer, and one of the subtlest and most intelligent around. Hotel World is essential reading from a writer confirming herself as a major talent." - Carol Birch, The Independent

  • "Though the work features only one authentic ghost, the remaining characters might as well be apparitions, so deadened and dispirited are their tales. The result leaves one wondering what all the fuss in England was about. (...) Hotel World frustrates and disappoints." - Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "This is a disturbing, many-layered book (.....) Ali Smith's writing is haunting and acute. (...) Hotel World might have been depressing were it not for the invigoratingly sharp writing." - Vicky Hutchings, The New Statesman

  • "Where British reviewers see ambition, subtlety and wild imagination, all I can detect are leaden whimsy and mechanistic storytelling. Hotel World turns out to be a thin piece of work." - Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Smith is so deft with language that it's easy, at first, to mistake Hotel World for an exercise in style." - Charles Taylor, Salon

  • "Hotel World is compelling, however, 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. (...) (A) damn good read." - Alexandra Yurkovsky, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Hotel World is a not a novel for reading in stolen snatches in public places. It demands first to be read aloud -- there are voices which have to be heard to be heard -- and then to be read again -- the story, insofar as there is one, pulls you round in the sort of circle which only begins to take shape when you've walked it more than once." - Claudia FitzHerbert, The Spectator

  • "Though not all the voices are as mesmeric as Sara's, each is enriched and enforced by the author's ability to find life where there is death and language where there is silence." - Melissa Katsoulis, The Times

  • "For the first time this talent, glimpsed and admired in earlier work, has been structured into a world-view; fragmented, tenuous, allusive, sparse -- a provocative view of the world in which we must live and die." - Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement

  • "To her considerable credit as a writer, Smith also manages to have her characters approach these grim subjects in moods of humor and unselfconscious bumbling, which makes Hotel World (shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize) a greatly appealing read in spite of the heaviness of its themes." - Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Hotel World focusses, largely, around a hotel -- part of the Global Hotel chain. In six sections, temporally titled (from "Past" through "Future Conditional" to "Present"), the overlapping stories of five characters are told.
       The book opens with the story of a chambermaid at the hotel -- nineteen year old Sara Wilby, as we later learn. Sara recently died, plunging down a dumbwaiter shaft to her death. Dead she may be, but she isn't gone yet. Indeed, she finds: "Because now that I'm nearly gone, I'm more here than I ever was." Sara tells the story of her accidental death, and her peculiar, shifting after-life state. Smith does much of this section exceptionally well: the book is worthwhile for this alone.
       There is unfinished business in Sara's life, too: a watch, for example, she brought to get repaired -- a momentous event in her life, though she did not act as fully on it as she might have.
       And then there is that nagging question the dead Sara can't get an answer too: how long did the fatal fall take ?
       Other figures dominate the following sections, including a homeless woman, given a room in the hotel, a journalist, and Sara's sister. In different styles Smith presents their take on the events (which none of them fully comprehend).
       Finally, Smith closes the circle, in the beautifully realized concluding chapter.

       There is a fair amount of experimentation in Hotel World, as Smith uses a number of styles and approaches. Not everything is successful -- and there are sections that can be quite tiresome -- but parts are exceptional (the first and last sections, in particular). Parts of the tale, like some of the consciousnesses, are murky, but there is a good story here too.

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Hotel World: Reviews: Ali Smith: Other books by Ali Smith under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Ali Smith was born in 1962

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© 2001-2012 the complete review

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