Tag Archives: Emily St. John Mandel

‘The Glass Hotel’ by Emily St. John Mandel

Here is the long awaited next novel from the award winning author of Station Eleven and it is very different. Station Eleven met with huge success in 2014, as a dystopian novel about the situation after 99% of humanity was wiped out by a flu pandemic. Sound familiar? I’m glad I read that novel then, because I think it might hit a bit too close to home now!! Actually if you haven’t read it, it does strike me now how prophetic it really was!

The Glass Hotel is described as, “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.”

The image of a glass hotel is both triumphant and fragile–a good metaphor for a Ponzi scheme. The book is loosely based on the idea of the Bernie Madoff story. Jonathan Alkaitis is a likeable guy who draws people into investing their money into a deal which of course ends up ruining many lives, including his own. Vincent is a young woman who gets drawn into many different worlds in the course of her lifetime and explores the different paths that people might choose (a bit like “Choose Your Own Adventure” or that old movie “Sliding Doors”). I found her character most fascinating. Vincent loves liminal spaces which I found currently relevant because the lockdown we are experiencing is a liminal space as well–a humbling, teachable, vulnerable time that is a bit suspended between worlds.

Even though it is not action packed, the simple elegant prose builds the story by flitting around in a non-linear fashion. One reviewer likened it to piecing a jigsaw puzzle without the box. Now I know why I liked this novel so much! 🙂 There are even some ghosts that make cameo appearances at critical moments, visions of people who have been wronged.  I really do enjoy Mandel’s writing. She thoughtfully explores themes and beautifully tracks all sorts of people involved in the scheme…those whose lives were ruined, those who knew, those who worked for it but didn’t know, those who should have known better but were swept away by trust or greed, and those who knew perfectly well and saw the end coming…

It is my practise with a literary novel such as this, to read reviews halfway through in order to discover the themes so that my reading is enhanced. There are some excellent reviews of this one (without spoilers) which helped me so I’ll share them in case you want to do the same. There is one from the New Yorker: click here, and one from the Globe and Mail: click here.

This Ron Charles video is such a hoot, I just had to include it:

‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenstarstarstarstarPost-apocalyptic is not usually my cup of tea, but I loved this one. It came highly recommended by someone who’s reading taste is similar to mine, and I was not disappointed. This is an elegant literary novel about memory, art, and survival. It is beautifully written and artfully atmospheric. Partially set in Toronto and partly in a world that has been devastated by a pandemic flu, the author seamlessly weaves together the past and the present. The book combines some interesting aspects of culture: quotes from Star Trek (“survival is insufficient”), Shakespearean plays, symphony orchestra performance, and comic book art. When everything is lost, what do we long for, what do we remember? Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.”

The story begins on a Toronto stage. The actor who is performing King Lear, collapses from a heart attack mid-scene and a paramedic in the audience rushes up to do CPR. But it is too late for Arthur, and for the world that is at that moment on the threshold of an unimaginable collapse. It is quite sobering to think about how vulnerable we really are, how little control we have, and how quickly the “world as we know it” could become a distant memory.

I don’t want to say more because this book needs to be experienced. While I was reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I know it will stay with me for a very long time. Though similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and is unsettling, I found this book less depressing and more hopeful. It is very thought provoking. Station Eleven is an excellent pick for book clubs and will definitely be one that will be talked about in many literary circles! It is one of those gems that is both approachable and extraordinary. Definitely not just for sci-fi fans!