I picked up Ali Smith's Hotel World as I was waltzing out of town, alone on a long trip for work, first to take a flight to Nice, and later to take a train across La France to the Atlantic coast side of things. (To be honest, no waltzing was involved, just sweating and banging my shins on stuff).
In any case, I cracked open the slim Hotel World as soon as I nestled down into my purple velour seat upon the TGV, which was literally rattling from the Côte d'Azur towards Paris. From then, I was captive: I couldn't put it down, even for the hour I was in Paris (I'm a dummy), nor could I stop reading as my train continued to hurtle down south, through endless sunflower fields.
Now, it could have been the exhaustion from travel, or not being able to speak French OR convincingly waltz, or it might have been the extreme dehydration my body was experiencing from Europe's massive heatwave, but as I turned the last few pages of the book later that night, at dinner in my hotel, I found myself straight up weeping into my salad. Of course I'm a sensitive sort, and cry in public places on the regular, but really Ali Smith... Hotel World devastated me.
Hotel World is largely a ghost story - it's a recently departed soul and her freak-accident hotel death that pulls the other characters together into the narrative. But there are ghosts, too, in Smith's text - ghosts who spirit away words and syllables from characters' mouths, only to reemerge with them later, appearing in prose like so many Cheshire Cats.
And, as we all suspect but frequently ignore for the sake of not creeping ourselves out, ghosts are the real trade of hotels, their permanent tenants:
I go from room to room here and see beds wrecked after love and sleep, then beds cleaned and ready, waiting again for bodies to slide into them; crisp sheets folded down, beds with their mouths open saying welcome, hurry up, get in, sleep is coming. The beds are so inviting. They open their mouths all over the hotel every night for the bodies which slip into them with each other or alone; all the people with their beating hearts, sliding into spaces left empty for them by other people gone now to God knows where, who warmed the same spaces up only hours before. [...] I have been watching them sleep afterwards; I have sat at the ends of satisfied beds, dissatisfied beds, snoring, oblivious, insomniac beds, the beds of people who sensed no one there, no one else in the room but them.
That night, as I dried my tears and finished my dinner, I tried to make a few notes as to why I loved Hotel World so much, but upon reading those notes just now, in a distinctly more emotionally sober frame of mind, it turned out I just had scrawled the world "FEELINGS?!" across the title page. So, forget that.
What can I say? Hotel World is a hearty recommendation from someone traveling alone on French trains and likely having a heat-inspired nervous breakdown - haha, I mean meltdown- which is almost as good a recommendation as being shortlisted for the Booker Prize or winning the Orange Prize for Fiction (which Smith's novel was/did).
So, in other words: you don't have to take my word for it.