All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

on May 28, 2020

The Glass Hotel 
Emily St. John Mandel
Picador
2020, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Vincent is the beautiful bartender at the Hotel Caicette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. New York financier Jonathan Alkaitis owns the hotel. When he passes her his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, a hooded figure 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-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later, Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship.

Weaving together the lives of these characters, Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghost of our pasts. 

This was an intriguing read.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Emily St. John Mandel, in particular, Station Eleven which was her book before this one. I haven’t had a chance to read that yet but recently we went to a bookstore to pick up some new reads for our boys and I grabbed this. I really like the cover and I figured it was a good place to start and see if I enjoy the author and then I can go back and read more. And because I’ve been trying to mix up my reads with review books, new acquisitions, library eBook borrows and books I’ve had on my TBR for a while, it wasn’t long before I picked it up.

For the first part of the book, I was wondering what was going on. It starts with Vincent and the ship before going back in time to Vincent’s brother Paul and then moves around a bit in time and place, introducing Vincent, Paul and their backgrounds as well as the Hotel Caicette, the financier who owns the hotel and a businessman who happens to be sitting in the bar at the time of the graffiti. All of them will be bound together in different ways – and almost all of them will face ruin and downfall as well.

The book has a lot of time jumps, often without explaining what has happened in the meantime and you’re kind of left to just figure it out – for example it picks up with one of the characters sentenced to 170 years in jail but it’s a long time before the book actually confirms why they are in jail and how that came about. It’s pretty obvious why the character goes to jail and some of the descriptions for certain editions even mention it in the blurb but this one doesn’t and I feel as though it’s better that it doesn’t warn you and that you watch it unfold through the perspective of various people throughout the story. I feel as though the book did an excellent job of showcasing this sort of thing from a variety of people: the smallest, through to the middle, the people behind it, the ones at the top. It gave an excellent overall picture and made the aftermath even more devastating.

There’s a lot in this book that feels unconnected and there were times when I was wondering where it was going and how everything was going to tie together but then the author begins to knot the threads together and it all comes together with amazing cohesion and impressive storytelling. I became invested in some of the lesser characters in ways that I could not predict when they first appeared. And it was easy to put myself in the shoes of some of them as well, to imagine how they must’ve felt at certain points in the story as everything came crashing down. It’s the sort of thing that people never recover from.

The hotel, for being the title, is sort of it in only briefly in a way, but it’s the catalyst for so many of the people being together at the same time on that one night and how that one night changes the lives of each of them, for the years to come. For Vincent, it’s a ticket out of her bartending job and entry to the highest levels of society…although it comes at a cost. Paul has been deeply troubled for a long time. He has a history of drug abuse and has drifted around, often reconnecting with his half-sister Vincent at different points in their lives. Leon is a business executive working for a shipping company but he’s also approaching the end of his useful working life – in his 50s he’s senior enough to command a big salary and knows it’s only a matter of time before he’s pushed out for someone younger, with fresh ideas but who is also cheaper. Leon is looking to get all his ducks in a row before that happens so that he and his wife might have a comfortable retirement. Tying them all together is Jonathan, a wealthy New York financier who always seems to have the answers, even if they sound too good to be true.

I really enjoyed this – even before the author started tying everything together and I was wondering where it was going, I was really liking the writing and the story, although it hadn’t started to make sense yet. I just really appreciated the way new characters were introduced, the way backstories were told, the descriptions of buildings and surroundings and also the way that the story melded together as I got further into it. Generally I’m not a huge fan of jumps back and forth in time, but I thought it worked here. I will definitely look for Station Eleven (which is apparently about a pandemic? So maybe it might pay to wait just a little, before diving into that one) and anything else Emily St. John Mandel has written as well. This was really cleverly done.

8/10

Book #97 of 2020


One response to “Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. Marg says:

    I have had my eye on this author for a little while. There is another one with a similar name too.

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