Emily St. John Mandel | Fiction, 2020
As The Glass Hotel opens, we meet Paul. We follow Paul from Toronto to a very small town (Caiette) on the very tip of Vancouver Island BC, and back again. And then the time changes. What year are we in? Mandel switches locations, time, and, most important, characters, in a manner that is scratch-my-head confusing. About page 100, I was ready to give up. But I persisted.
For a significant portion of the book, (maybe one-third?) we follow Vincent, Paul’s half-sister. Vincent is the most interesting character in The Glass Hotel. Or, more precisely, she finds herself in the most interesting circumstances. She leaves The Glass Hotel in Caiette, where she works as a bartender, with its wealthy owner, Jonathan Alkaitis, to go to New York and enter the “kingdom of money.” She and Jonathon pretend they are married for three years, until Alkaitis receives a 170-year prison term for designing and managing a Ponzi scheme. Later, Vincent decides to be a cook on a cargo ship.
Her circumstances are interesting, but I don’t think Mandel does a good job of developing characters. Her work with Vincent is the best, but I don’t know much about Vincent’s personality or her feelings or her inner thoughts. We only see her actions. And Alkaitis is just a caricature of a sweet rich guy running a Ponzi scheme.
It feels like Mandel’s book is making a statement, rather than writing a story. However, I am at a loss. The intention of the book in unclear to me, though some reviewers say it points to the capriciousness of life, and so is particularly appropriate for these times.
It wasn’t boring or particularly hard to get through. I just found it rather vapid. I can’t recommend it, I must admit. Though, as always, I look forward to hearing from those of you who loved it!
From The Atlantic, Ruth Franklin: The Glass Hotel is a jigsaw puzzle missing its box. At the book’s start, what exactly it is about or even who the major figures are is unclear…