Review: Hotel World by Ali Smith

pobrane

In America, Jean Baudrillard maps out the Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles as one of the ultimate sites of postmodernity. The building, he claims, is a “box of spatio-temporal tricks” (1988: 59). Decentralised and detached from the world outside, it creates and orders its own utopic reality; its guests and visitors seemingly stranded in a dislocated, sanitised hyper-reality.

This is surely the same environment into which Smith plunges the reader in her 2000 novel Hotel World – territory which is disturbing in its familiarity. Seen from a variety of vantage points, the hotel is a place of work, of life and – in one case – of death, a symbol of social inequality and a site of grief and memory. This is in spite of the hotel chain’s claims to uniformity – the obliteration of difference which extends to the people who work there: “…it is important, behind Reception, to wear hair tied back and to wear ‘subtle’ make-up. There Lise is, there she can see it, her subtly made-up face above her Name Badge, sleek and smiling, emptied of self, very good at what she does.” (112)

Yet, despite every attempt to erase the personal or the temporal, bits somehow get left behind. There are the physical reminders – “…the Left Behind Room; this is where all the things guests leave behind are stored…alarm clocks; batteries; books…” (105) or the dust “made of human skin,” (191). And there are the grieving friends and relatives left behind in the wake of a death. And no amount of regulation – no artificial measure of control – can, it seems, prevent the random accidents and encounters which live on in people’s minds and memories, in spite of the transience of hotel life.

There are few writers, I believe, who quite succeed in occupying the minds of their characters to the extent that Ali Smith does. She renders them instantly recognisable, their traumas, dilemmas and joys our own. And they also offer a point of resistance to the apparent pessimism of Hotel World and its inhuman territory of pressed, starched sheets; numbered doors and static. They break down barriers, and refuse to submit to the sterility and quiet tyranny of postmodern existence.

This is another book which proves that Smith is one of the most outstanding authors of her generation.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

350px-Jane_Austen,_from_A_Memoir_of_Jane_Austen_(1870)

Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

So here’s confession of the day – I had never read Pride and Prejudice until about a month ago. I think I picked it up at the age of ten, decided it was probably beyond me and never returned to it.

As I got older, I also harboured the sense that Austen just wasn’t for me, with her formalities and her social hierarchies and her neat, well-maintained romantic arrangements. I’ve always been more into the freak show masochism of Wuthering Heights, or the quiet probing of inequalities that is Middlemarch. And even though it’s really not possible to fault Pride and Prejudice for its well-tempered romanticism, there’s something that irks about Austen’s refusal to question or interrogate her subject matter. Why, I want to ask her, is Lydia so incapable of self-restraint? Doesn’t Lizzy’s marriage to Darcy reinforce rather than critique the prevailing materialism of the time? And it’s no use telling me that she was just reflecting the attitudes of her age. Clearly, she was astute enough to recognise the infantile behaviour of some women; to hold Lizzy up as a paragon of just what a good girl should really be like. But if she could see all of that, why didn’t she – as Mary Wollstonecraft had done some 21 years previously – suggest that there might be something lacking in women’s education? Or that there was something deeply unjust about depriving women of a means of supporting themselves if – heaven forbid – they found themselves without a single man in possession of a good fortune?

There’s so much to love here – I don’t deny it. The zinging wit and repartee – the observational humour and awareness of human failure and foibles. But there’s also so much I have trouble digesting. And I don’t just put that down to twenty-first century sensibilities. I want my great writers to ask questions; not to reinforce the status quo.