Books of 2007: Hotel World–Clare Williams

By Clare Williams

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My favourite book of the year has to be Ali Smith’s Hotel World (Hamish Hamilton, 2001).

As with many of the literary treasures I discover, I came across Ali Smith’s Hotel World completely by chance this summer, and must (rather embarrassingly) confess that I was initially drawn to the book by the large red 50p sale ticket stuck over its front cover. But then who, after all, can resist the prospect of a bargain? Little did I know at the time that the book had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction (2001) and the Orange Prize for Fiction (2001), as well as receiving several prestigious arts awards.

On picking it up and reading the blurb, I was immediately excited by its originality of theme, which sets out to explore the disconnected lives of five women, who all come to be mysteriously brought together through the anonymous world of the Global Hotel, a world-wide franchise of luxurious but cleanly impersonal hotels. One of the women has tragically died in an accident, and is endeavouring to make sense of her own death and come to terms with the family’s grief; another is homeless, and has seemingly sat on the cold steps of the hotel so long, begging for money, that she has all but forgotten how to speak; and the other narrators includes a receptionist in the hotel who takes pity on the lonely world she surveys around her, a nameless girl who works in a jeweller’s, and the deceased’s girls sister, angrily searching for a reason to explain the family tragedy.

Themes of death and love are uniquely explored in a painfully realistic contemporary backdrop of modern city life, and are intricately conveyed through a fittingly eclectic voice of multiple narration and a beautifully poetic and refreshingly experimental language. It is certainly one of those rare books that you would want to read again and again, which I intend on doing myself when and if it eventually makes its way back to me, after having lent it out to my friends. Indeed, given the subtly understated spiritual energy that drifts throughout Hotel World, it seems appropriate that the book should be left to roam from hand to hand in our own disconnected world, perhaps providing us all with an amorphous but much appreciated sense of concurrence in variant divergence.

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Clare Williams studied for her BA in English Literature and Modern History at the University of Liverpool, and also completed her MA in Victorian Literature at the university. She is currently in the final year of her PhD, and is working part-time with The Reader Organisation as a funding assistant and project worker for Get Into Reading.