Monday, June 8, 2020

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Read by Dylan Moore
Published March 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out the audiobook from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby's glass wall: "Why don't you swallow broken glass." High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients' accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan's wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

My Thoughts:
The Atlantic calls Mandel "philosophically profound." The New Yorker says "Mandel's gift is to weave realism out of extremity." And NPR says "Intricate, interlocking narratives are Mandel's signature..." If you've read Mandel, you know all of those things to be true. This book is no exception.

Mandel opens and closes The Glass Hotel with Vincent, chapters titled "Vincent In The Ocean." Beyond that, the focus of the story shifts and characters come and go only to all come together later when as Alkaitis' business falls apart. Throughout, Mandel looks at how chance affects our lives and the ways that people reinvent and transform themselves. Mandel is so good at reinventing characters that she has even brought back two characters from Station Eleven (Leon and Miranda), and even a building, who get chances at new lives in this book.

Ghosts appear to many of the characters: Vincent; her brother, Paul, and Jonathan. But apparitions are not the only ghosts Mandel plays with here. Both Jonathan and one of employees create alternate fantasies, ghost lives.
"What does it mean to be a ghost, let alone to be there or here? There are so many ways to haunt a person or a life."
If I'm honest, I sometimes feel that I'm not smart enough for Mandel's writing, that I don't alway "get" it. But that never stops me from being impressed by it. She always manages to work so many ideas into a few hundred pages. Here she explores shadow countries, the world the rest of us don't notice. Shortly after I read this book and before I wrote this review, George Floyd was killed and we were all forced to see a shadow world we've all found do easy to forget about even when we've previously been forced to confront it.

Mandel also forces us to think about morality, trust, and the frailty of life (hence the book's title). She makes us think about how easily our lives can be broken and how we would deal with that. As one character says, "We move through this life so lightly." Mandel makes us think more about the choices we make.


  1. Thanks for the review. New author and new book for me.

    1. If you decide to give her a try, I'd definitely recommend Station Eleven; it's the most accessible.

  2. I love the balance she strikes being enjoyment-reading and admiration-reading: you can choose how far you want to dive into her storytelling depending on your mood and, sometimes, just coast along while she spins her web, waiting to see what happens next.