The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: March 24, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Mystery
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A young woman named Vincent is at the heart of The Glass Hotel, a novel that stretches its plot around the globe and into the world of high finance, hotels, restaurants, and even global oceanic shipping. It’s a complex brew of stories and people who meet, side- step, brush up against, or collide, with each other in ways that mean much more to the big picture than they understand.
In the opening chapters, Vincent is merely the half-sister side character to Paul, a young man with a drug problem who doesn’t know what to do with his life. He seems to be a key character as he later shows up at Hotel Caiette, a remote Canadian luxury hotel where Vincent is bartender. A hotel where she meets and marries Jonathon Alkaitis, an enormously wealthy financier ala Bernie Madoff. She’s younger than his daughter. At this is hotel there is another guest, Leon Prevant, an older gentleman who is an executive at global shipping line. By now, Paul is no longer mentioned as Vincent moves into a life of extraordinary wealth and leisure in NYC. The later chapters take place 13 years later, Alkaitis is in jail; Leon, who invested all his money with him is unemployed and broke, and Vincent is a cook on a massive container ship. Until she goes missing.
This is a lot to process so it would seem as if The Glass Hotel would move quickly. Instead, the story ambles and while author Emily St. John Mandel’s writing is captivating she never tightens the novel’s weave, leaving my attention to fall through the holes. Characters come and go; the thread of continuity disappears and leaves an oddly disjointed plot.
The Glass Hotel reminded me in a small way of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas except, he pulled his wildly disparate stories beautifully together by the end. Each story in The Glass Hotel is resolved, the circle is closed, but there is no sense of connection. Which may be Mandel’s point: how many people do we interact with each day without any real connection? That at the heart of it, everyone in the novel lives in their own head with thoughts, dreams, and motivations unknown to anyone around them. An unsettling and thought-provoking concept, but not one that Mandel drove home clearly. While I still enjoyed her beautiful writing, this was not the novel of surprise and depth I wanted from her.
Shelter-in-Place reading (backlist books I enjoyed that you can easily get online at library): If you’re intrigued by the Bernie Madoff aspects of this novel you should check out The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Sue Myers.
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