Hotel World Summary & Study Guide

Ali Smith
This Study Guide consists of approximately 51 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Hotel World.
This section contains 965 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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Hotel World Summary & Study Guide Description

Hotel World Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Hotel World by Ali Smith.

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Smith, Ali. Hotel World. Penguin, 2002.

Hotel World tells the story of five women, one of whom is already dead at the novel’s start, and how their lives intersect on one winter’s night. It ranges freely through time, and uses multiple grammatical tenses to convey time’s movement. Sara Wilby, a nineteen-year-old girl who was a promising swimmer and the pride of her family, has died, falling down an elevator shaft to her death when climbing into a hotel dumb waiter. The novel takes place in the winter six months after the death of Sara, a fact which is announced in the opening lines by none other than Sara's own ghost. The ghost has been wandering between places Sara visited in life, looking for answers about her death whilst forgetting more and more of the facts of her life. She had haunted the family for a brief time, but grew bored. She also visited her own body as it lies buried underground, and the ghost’s conversation with the body is told in flashback. The body told the ghost that before Sara had died, she had fallen in love with a girl in a watch shop. Soon after, Sara started working in a hotel, and died on her second ever shift after she bet a boy that she could fit in the dumb waiter. The ghost had asked the body how long the fall had taken, but received no reply. As the ghost fades away forever at the end of the first chapter, she flies around the hotel and notes some of the people there: a girl behind the reception desk who does not yet know she is ill, and a girl outside, wrapped in blankets.

In Chapter 2 we join the girl in blankets, discovering that she is Elspeth (known as “Else”), a young homeless woman. Else is trying to beg for money on the streets outside the hotel, but a depressed-looking girl across the road steals all the attention. As a woman in uniform leaves the hotel, the young girl flees. The woman in uniform instead speaks to Else, and offers her a room for the night. Else accepts, after stealing the young girl’s coins, and enters the hotel to talk to the woman, who she realizes is also practically a girl; her name badge reads “Lise.” In the privacy of her room, Else indulges in a coughing fit, before running a bath for herself. Exiting the bath with the taps still running, she counts her coins and begins to worry about her blankets outside in the rain. She abruptly decides to leave the hotel.

Chapter 3 shifts forward in time by about half a year, thus making it a whole year since Sara died. We find Lise, the girl from the hotel reception, now ill to the point that she cannot leave bed, let alone work. She spends every day the same way, struggling to get by and wondering how long it will be until her mother’s daily visit. A flashback reveals further details about the night in the hotel (the present tense of the novel). Lise had recognized the girl in the street from Sara’s funeral, and wanted to know who she was. She was also worried about Duncan, her colleague who had been the one to befriend Sara, and who had seen her die; he was spending his shifts at work hiding in a lost property cupboard. Lise also remembers that she had checked in another woman that evening, who was wearing much smarter clothes than Else or herself.

Chapter 4 returns us to that evening, and to the smartly dressed guest: Penny is a journalist sent to review the hotel. Idling over her assignment, she leaves her room to find something more interesting to do. Discovering a girl in hotel uniform trying to break something off the corridor wall, she delights in the idea of helping her. Unable to pull the covering off the wall, Penny runs to find further aid, and bumps into Else, who is leaving her flooded room. She brings Else to the corridor, and Else recognizes the girl from the street outside, and empties the coins from her pockets. The cover splinters and breaks, and the girl and Penny have uncovered the elevator shaft down which Sara died. The girl throws some coins, then Penny’s hotel room clock, down the shaft, before dropping her shoe down as well. She then breaks down in tears, and Else leaves her half the coins and then departs; Penny also leaves, phoning reception before she goes, and she walks around the town at night with Else.

Chapter 5 is in the voice of Clare Wilby, Sara’s sister, who has just returned home from the hotel at dawn; it turns out that Clare was the girl in the street, and it was Clare who broke open the elevator shaft in the hotel. Clare explains, speaking to her dead sister, that after Penny had left, Lise came and found her and took care of her; she introduced her to Duncan, who helped clear away the mess, and also explained how Sara had died. He confirmed it was not a suicide but a tragic accident, and told Clare about the bet Sara had made. He then paid Clare the money he felt he owed Sara, and they returned downstairs for a hotel breakfast organized by Lise. At the close of the chapter, Clare has come to learn to accept that, whilst Sara is gone, her own life must go on. The novel closes with various descriptions of characters going about their morning routines, as a new day truly begins for them, and for Clare.

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This section contains 965 words
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