Hotel World

& since now I know for sure though really I knew already that she didn’t actually mean to do it I suppose that too is keeping me awake thought more usually at this time of the night morning I am lying here not sleeping again because I am thinking all that stuff again like how she was going to be 20 years old & it would have been on Jan 22nd next year & she was about to be 20 in a couple of months’ time she would have been 20 in 2000 on Jan 22 20 2000 22 & at school everybody thinking she did mean to do it like in English with horrible Ellis cow looking at me from the front of the class all sympathetic fucking sad eyes like I’m an invalid or freak or something that day we were reading that book Tess of the D’Urbervilles by T Hardy & there is that bit in it were she is looking in the mirror suddenly she thinks that we all know our dates of birth but that every year there is another date that we pass over without knowing what it is but it is just as important as the other date the death date I could feel everybody in the whole place the boys too all the eyes going into my back & Gemma on the one side & Charlotte on the other not looking because they all knew about it it sent this funny tingling through everything made everything like woah fuck sake weird like something had happened & nobody could say it & I knew I was supposed to be thinking that she had had her other date maybe she had even decided to do it on it & it was 24 May May 24th & the thing is for once I wasn’t actually fucking thinking it or anything about it for once I had been thinking of something else […] how are you all coping a dreadful loss like we lost a purse or a dog or a terrible way to lose ones life like she just put it down somewhere & when she looked up she didn’t know what she’d done with it a terrible way to lose someone close like we lost her in a department store & if we went to the customer service desk we could put out a call for her over the intercom speakers […] it is funny not ha ha but peculiar that it could be so sad I could be there & feel how sad it was then the next minute I could be eating this great breakfast & wearing these great Nikes & feeling really the best in ages it is sort of the same thing as reading the book & the story suddenly stopping because actually though it looked like it had stopped it hadn’t it went on & it’s all right to be relieved that it did because actually it’s ok that it did that it does it’s even good kind of like the date thing when everybody in the class was expecting me to be feeling something & for one fucking minute I had forgotten what it was I was supposed to be feeling as if like someone sent me a minute of relief a minute of something else through the post saw-this-minute-&-thought-of-you well it’s like tonight started out being about the usual end thing then it changed into something quite different unexpected kind of as if someone somewhere must have seen this evening & thought of me […] & since it has been good since then to have some reasons for it & for getting up & breakfast & more of the same & another day again & since breakfast can actually I forgot taste & smell like really good
In this chapter we see Clare deal with the accidental death of her sister. Here Ali Smith explores the grieving process and specifically, how this process is experienced by the subject, temporally. The extract ends on an ultimately uplifting note, showing that despite the death of a loved one presenting the grieving subject with a seemingly impossible situation, life does carry on and, in this sense, one is able to overcome death in the living of life by accepting grief. The chapter at first seems to be a fragment in which time has stopped and Clare is trapped in the loss that she feels. However, throughout the chapter we see that Clare gradually comes to an understanding of her grief and is able to move forwards – her trajectory is no longer focused backwards on the death of her sister. The extract is presented in a stream of consciousness form, as an internal monologue. It exactly mimics Clare’s thought processes, highlighting how memories and thoughts are triggered by other thoughts and how they are all connected. This choice of form allows the reader an insight into Clare’s internal experience of grief, and makes the account incredibly personal, allowing the reader to be able to relate to Clare and producing a highly poignant effect.

The repetition of the phrase ‘& since’ draws attention to Clare’s focus on the death of her sister, and how time is now divided into before or after the accident, with the accident dominating her experience. However this broken and unfinished clause also allows her the space to explore her sadness and work through her experience of grief. In keeping with the account being written in the tone of a teenage girl, there are grammatical errors throughout. There is no punctuation, and the whole of the text is in lower-case, save for when Clare refers to herself as ‘I’; highlighting the personal nature of the account. The lack of punctuation and heavy use of ampersands shows the overwhelming nature of Clare’s grief and allows the chapter to build towards a climax. This also mirrors the fall of Sara and the speed with which she fell.

The account shows us Clare’s concern with dates and numbers. Usually these order our experience of time and make it consistent and measurable, however, this is destabilised in Clare’s experience of grief where this coherence is lost. This instrument of coherence and ordering also serves to intensify the loss that Clare feels, as she is obsessed with how old her sister would have been and her date of birth. Gradually her explanation of how old Sara would have been degenerates into just numbers and no words, so it loses meaning. This highlights the fact that the usual markers that we use to understand and order time are lost in the overwhelming experience of death.

The chapter is narrated in the present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy and shows the reader the process of Clare moving through her grief and eventually being able to come to an understanding of her situation. The present tense also crystallises the moment of grief, affording yet more poignancy. This immediacy of the account allows for greater emotional depth and is more moving than if Clare were to explain how she felt by looking back on the experience with hindsight, which would be a less relatable account.

Smith uses metaphor to explore death and how Clare experiences the death of her sister. Sara’s death is described as being like ‘reading the book & the story suddenly stopping’, it seems that here Smith is engaging with the theme of endings, and death as the end of a narrative. However, by the end of the narrative Clare becomes aware that time does continue in spite of death, and life resumes despite a seemingly impossible situation. Clare also describes her relief in a metaphorical sense, suggesting that relief is spare time sent in the post like a postcard. She uses the common phrase ‘saw this … and thought of you’ but in an unconventional setting, as time is intangible and impossible to donate to another person – however this metaphor works extremely well in highlighting the relief that Clare takes from feeling ‘something else’ other than abject grief.

Clare also examines the conventional condolences that are offered to the grieving and explores their inadequacy in a comical but also moving way. Clare’s account literalises these euphemistic ways of talking about death, suggesting their absurd nature. This is shown specifically in relation to ‘loss’, where Clare highlights that this is not a sufficient description for the way that she feels in the wake of her sister’s death. Sara is permanently gone and cannot be found, cannot be called back over the intercom speakers.

Through Clare’s account we witness the gradual process by which she deals with the death of her sister, managing to forget about her grief at first for a couple of minutes and then for increasingly long periods of time (until presumably it will lose its dominance in her thoughts). Despite the story stopping for Sara, time carries on and eventually Clare is able to accept her grief and resume life, remembering that she can take pleasure in things such as the smell and taste of breakfast. She is no longer completely focused on ‘the usual end thing’, but is able to overcome death in the living of life.

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