Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

IHello and welcome to another book review. This year, I’m going to try to review all the books I’ve got on my 21 books and 21 ebooks for 2021 list, and today it’s the turn of The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel. I read her novel Station Eleven in 2019 and I think it’s one of my favourites of all time so I was really excited about this new release. I have the Limited Edition Independent Bookseller hardcover and it has the most gorgeous sprayed edges!

Title: The Glass Hotel
Author: Emily St John Mandel
Genre: Literary Fiction
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Picador
Date of Publication: August 6th 2020

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune Logistics, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of the Neptune Cumberland. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

These sprayed edges make me swoon!

My thoughts

I had really high hopes for this book as I adored Station Eleven, but as I was reading it, I was trying not to let that influence me and let this book stand out for itself. I’m not sure of the extent to which I actually succeed.

The book’s plot is incredibly intricate as it weaves together the stories of several characters who are all linked in some way, which is not always obvious at the beginning. This is also a trait of Station Eleven which I adored in both books – being able to do this and keep the reader hooked is the mark of a really gifted writer. I wouldn’t say that this book was particularly plot-driven; rather, it focuses more on the links between the characters and the themes that run throughout.

The main plot point is the fallout from the collapse of a Ponzi scheme, masterminded by Johnathan Alkaitis, which touches all our characters in some way. Throughout, Mandel uses this to highlight the greed that prompted such financial ruin in the late 2000s. The Hotel Caiette (the hotel behind the titles) becomes a synecdoche for the greed on Wall Street which eventually comes to lie unused in the wild landscape of Vancouver Island. It is so incongruous against this landscape that it makes money look obscene against the beauty of the natural world, the use of the hotel as glass also showings us just how fragile the economy can be.

The theme of past ghosts is also central to the novel. As Johnathon Alkaitis serves his over-100-year sentence in prison for fraud, he begins to suffer from dementia and he has visions of people from his life who have passed away. This is also echoed with the character of Vincent (the “wife” in all but law of Johnathan), who appears to her estranged brother after her disappearance, as well as when she sees her dead mother at the moment of her death. Throughout this book, greed is rife, but through the use of ghosts, Mandel is warning us of what actually really matters in life, such as the loved ones around us. So few of the characters seem to have meaningful relationships with friends and loved ones as they become obsessed with accumulating money at the expense of others. In a time where we must stay at home and many of us are really evaluating what are the most important things in our life, this novel felt very timely. In the two books I’ve read by Mandel, this is an common theme which is incredibly thought provoking.

Furthermore, there were some very interesting writing devices employed to try to implicate us in the scandal of the Ponzi scheme and make us consider our role in global greed. The book has multiple POVs, mostly from the third person; however, a few sections are told in the first person plural “we”, which makes us question who exactly is at fault, who perpetuates this greed and to what extent we, ourselves, are implicated in the story. It’s reading books like this that really make me want to go and do a MA in Comparative Literature!

For me, this book did lack some excitement in the plot. I feel like I can’t really give any spoilers for this as there wasn’t anything that happened that came as a surprise. Indeed, the blurb already tells us that Vincent will go missing aboard a ship – this doesn’t actually happen until well over the two thirds mark. Nonetheless, the writing is exceptionally beautiful. Normally, for me, plot is absolutely central, but this book offers so much food for thought that it kept me gripped throughout.

Finally, I also loved the few Station Eleven Easter eggs that were referenced throughout, such as the ships anchored in the waters around Malaysia and the reference to the devastating “Georgia Flu” which is what wipes out the population in Station Eleven. I now want to read more Mandel to see if any of her other novels are linked together.

I hope you enjoyed reading my review today. Have you read anything by this author? I’d love to hear your views.


6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

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