What a start! Ali Smith’s Hotel World explodes with the buzz of language and never relents. Told as stream-of-consciousness vignettes focussing on a girl who died falling down a hotel dumbwaiter, “Hotel World” owes much to the Modernist masterpieces of Joyce and Woolf, but doesn’t feel at all dated in this post-modern world.So much of this novel is about language–about finding the words for things, losing the words for things, failing to communicate with words. But it isn’t at all a “talky” novel, nor a dry “novel of ideas”; it’s a playful and life-affirming (and word-affirming) novel, even if it does revolve around a girl and a ghost and her corpse. Smith fully inhabits the five consciousnesses we meet: the ghost herself, a homeless woman, a travel reporter, a desk clerk, the dead girl’s sister, and a girl who works in a watch repair shop with whom the dead girl was in love. (The dead girl’s ghost has to visit the dead girl’s corpse to be reminded of the watch-shop girl–apparently bodies hold memories longer than ghosts–but the body doesn’t want to remember.) All are fully realized; though the flippant betrayal by the travel writer was a bit too flippant to be believed, the characters are real and fascinating.As an introduction to Smith’s world, there can be no better book; it’s haunting and loving and rich, and leaves the reader breathless for more.