The horizon flipping once, twice, camera flying from my hand.
It felt like plunging into shards of ice (294).
Emily St. John Mandel skips like a stone across genres. Last Night in Montreal (2009) begins as a detective story, but its mystery takes the tale into something else entirely. The brilliant Station Eleven (2014), a literary SF novel about a pandemic starts in the near future, jumps across twenty years into a tale of post-apocalyptic actors and a meditation on what makes us human. It brought her both SF and literary accolades, international fame, and an HBO mini-series deal.
So, naturally, her next novel, published earlier this year, concerns economics, a luxury hotel, and a Ponzi scheme.
However, it brushes against SF and Fantasy/Fabulism, and even features a couple of minor characters from Station Eleven.
Firstly, we have the matter of ghosts, which may be literary metaphors, figments of characters’ imaginations, or actual ghosts. The novel provides a fair bit of evidence of their having some kind of reality. The Glass Hotel also moves about in time quite a bit, backwards, forwards and, in one chapter, to the near future.
Title: The Glass Hotel
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
First published in March 2020
The Glass Hotel begins with half-siblings: a talented, doomed woman named Vincent and an aspiring musician and addict, Paul. It develops into an account of the lives of multiple people connected to both a remote luxury hotel and a Ponzi scheme. Time fractures. We move among past, present and (in one chapter) the near future. Two characters from Station Eleven turn up, though this story will not lead to that one– this is apparently a different timeline. We’re experiencing the paths people’s lives can take, the consequences we face for our choices, and the ghosts that will haunt us.
And those ghosts may not be mere metaphor.
Vincent makes a mysterious but consistently compelling character, in all of her incarnations.
The Glass Hotel may occur in something like the actual twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but Mandel engages in as much world-building as she did in Station Eleven. With a style both poetic and infectiously readable, she resolves the story’s mysteries, though not in the order or manner we might expect. The deeper questions raised we, like her cast of characters, must ponder for ourselves.
While I may have missed something, I remain uncertain why a prank aimed at one man elicits so strong a response from an entirely different one.
Story: 5/6 I am amazed at Mandel’s ability to handle so very many plots and concepts while remaining compulsively readable. I finished this book in a couple of sittings. However, those seeking a straightforward plot may not be as enamored of this novel.
Characterization: 5/6 This author enjoys juggling a lot of characters. The major ones have been credibly realized, even if we do not always share their motivations. The secondary characters are, of course, not as developed.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall: 5/6 Mandel’s deft hand, strong characterization, and multiplex storytelling mark her as one of the great emerging contemporary voices, and The Glass Hotel as a book worth reading.
In total, The Glass Hotel receives 35/42