Last Updated on December 17, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1089
Sara Wilby is the narrative thread that ties the characters of Hotel World together. The first section of the novel is told from her first-person perspective. Sara was a nineteen-year-old champion swimmer who worked for two days as a chambermaid at the Global Hotel before her death. During the last weeks of her life, Sara had fallen for another young woman; this was the first time she had experienced such emotions.
When the novel begins, Sara has died and is slipping away from her corporeal existence. This process involves losing track of reference points such as language; as a ghost, Sara forgets simple words such as “eyes” and confuses near homonyms such as “life” and “leaf.”
The ghostly Sara engages in conversations with a version of herself that is housed in her physical body. This other Sara remembers specific details of her life and reluctantly provides the story of how her—or their—death occurred: While the first Sara knows she fell down the shaft of the dumbwaiter (though she forgets its name), the second Sara provides the reason she climbed into it.
As a ghost, Sara feels the need to be around people. She haunts her father and younger sister, but stops disturbing her mother, on whom she had a devastating effect. She also lurks near strangers in the cemetery and on the street.
Elspeth “Else” Freeman
Elspeth “Else” Freeman is a homeless woman, possibly in her twenties or thirties. She sits on the sidewalk outside the Global Hotel and asks for spare change. On Lise’s invitation to put her up for free, she spends one night in the hotel. Else is seriously ill: she has a terrible cough, which she struggles to control, and is often weak. She wears a long coat, the lining of which is filled with the change she collects. Others comment on her dirty, disheveled appearance, and even on her unpleasant smell.
Else is proud to have been photographed for a magazine feature on the contents of homeless people’s pockets. Educated and well-read, she spends time at the library and enjoys poetry. She seems to have a routine of looking into brightly lit houses through their windows. Her mental state fluctuates, as she often seems fragile and disoriented but also converses intelligently with Penny during a long walk they take together.
Lise O’Brien was the receptionist on duty at the Global Hotel the night that Sara died. Although she was glad to be employed, Lise resented her employer’s power over her and engaged in small acts of resistance whenever possible. Lise often went outside to check on Else, and one cold, rainy night invited her to sleep in the hotel. Lise was pleased that she could hack the computer to let Else stay for free.
At the time of the novel’s present, Lise has become sick with an undiagnosable illness. She is constantly fatigued and listless; she no longer goes outside and cannot hold a job. She struggles to fill out a social services form.
Penny Warner is a journalist for a paper called the World. She stays at the Global Hotel on assignment to review it. Penny is easily distracted and has an overactive imagination. Bored with writing the review, Penny seeks small diversions in the hotel. The fantastic scenarios she obsessively constructs connect with her admitted tendency to lie constantly.
In the corridor outside her room, Penny encounters Sara’s sister—whom she mistakes for a hotel employee—and then Else; together, Penny and Else help Clare unscrew the wooden panel that covers the dumbwaiter opening. Later, when she walks with Else through the city and nearby suburbs, Penny is condescending and pretends to be generous. Ultimately she is shown to be materialistic and thoroughly self-centered.
Clare Wilby is Sara’s sixteen-year-old sister. Months after Sara's death, Clare is living...
(The entire section contains 1089 words.)
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