One of the main characters in Ali Smith’s novel is Sara Wilby. When the reader meets her in the first chapter, the young woman has been dead for about six months. She speaks in first person, reviewing how she has is gradually departing from the world and how she has interacted with other characters since her death. In the remaining chapters, the reader meets many of those characters and the narration switches several times—to third person and first person form different characters’ perspectives. Although the novel’s action largely takes place after her death, there is background information about the characters’ lives before then.
Because Sara died in the Global Hotel and much of the action takes place in or near it, her voice and her experience dying there provides a thread that ties together the diverse stories. The other characters include her sister, a hotel employee, a hotel guest, and a homeless woman—all of whom have interactions with each other because of Sara’s death. More philosophically, her musings on life and death and the challenge of letting go of her physical self provide a general commentary on mortality. The person on whom she has the strongest effect as a ghost is her younger sister, Clare. Both at home and at the hotel, she feels the ghostly presence and struggles to understand it. Clare’s experience shows the importance of the spectral figure and reverses the usual concept of grief as the living person learning to let go, because in this book it is the ghost who tries to live in the past.