I think most of us have heard of The Glass Hotel by now, after the huge success of Mandel’s previous novel Station Eleven. That also means readers are expecting a lot from this novel, and I think Mandel was able to deliver. What a joy to experience the story and characters through her intricately woven plot and beautiful prose.
There are so many things going on in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin…
Should I start with Paul, who plays a big part at the beginning but then drops off as other characters pick up?
I don’t hate Vincent, he told himself silently, I’ve only ever hated Vincent’s incredible good fortune of being Vincent instead of being me, I only hate that Vincent can drop out of high school and move to a terrible neighbourhood and still somehow miraculously be perfectly fine, like the laws of gravity and misfortune don’t apply to her.
Or Vincent, Paul’s younger half-sister, who has the amazing ability to continuously re-invent herself.
She had studied the habits of the monied with diligence. She copied their modes of dress and speech, and cultivated an air of carelessness. But she was ill at ease around the household staff and the caterers, because she feared that it anyone from her home planet were to look at her too closely, they’d see through her disguise.
Or maybe the Glass Hotel itself? The bright beacon in the wilderness, where Vincent’s life turns on a dime. And where a mysterious message shows up on the glass in the lobby.
The building would have been beautiful anywhere, but placed here, it was incongruous, and its incongruity played a part in its enchantment.
There are ghosts in this story. Not only ghosts of the people who remind certain characters of their dark deeds and mistakes, there’s also the ghost of an alternate universe (if you’ve read Station Eleven).
I could even begin with Jonathan, his decades-long Ponzi scheme, and his idea of a “counterlife.” As he sits out his 170 year sentence, Jonathan imagines that in his counterlife he fled the country before his arrest. Maybe, in his counterlife, he’s the “kind of person who keeps his passport on him at all times” and maybe his daughter Claire visits him in Dubai: “She disapproves of his actions, but they can laugh about it.”
When the Ponzi scheme fell apart, so did people’s lives. Leon Prevant and his wife lost everything – they had to sell their house and live in an RV.
In the shadow country it was necessary to lie down every night with a fear so powerful that it felt… like a physical presence, some malevolent beast that absorbs the light.
Jonathan’s partners-in-crime reflect on the moment in which they realize they are part of something illegal, and the decision–in that moment–not to do anything to stop it; leading into the idea of the possibility of both knowing something and not knowing it. (I think my son feels this every morning, getting ready for school–he knows he’s going to be late, but he also doesn’t know it, preventing him from moving any faster.)
It’s possible to know you’re a criminal, a liar, a man of weak moral character, and yet not know it, in the sense of feeling that your punishment is somehow undeserved, that despite the cold facts you’re deserving of warmth and some kind of special treatment. You can know that you’re guilty of an enormous crime, that you stole an immense amount of money from multiple people, and that this caused destitution for some of them and suicide for others, you can know all of this and yet still somehow feel you’ve been wronged when your judgment arrives.
Lindy says: “This practically hits all of my reading sweet spots: careful crafting, multiple viewpoints, vivid fragments, propulsive storytelling, intriguing characters and an ending that leaves me wondering.”
Anne says: “Mandel’s writing is a thing of beauty, and the plot she weaves among her memorable characters is well timed, keeping all 300 pages turning at a steady rate.”
Marcie says: “Emily St. John Mandel’s storytelling stretches to see into as many windows as possible.” and “The ways in which we choose to change, and how we are forced to change: these are essential and gripping questions.“