Oh my- this shouldn’t have been such a surprise but …. I put this book on my Wish List as soon as it came out. And then I waited. And I guess I saw a few reviews which weren’t up to what I thought they should be if this book was going to be as good as Station Eleven, Mandel’s prior novel. And time went on. I took it off my Wish List at some point. Then I saw it as being “available” on the library audio shelves. Okay – I got it, tried it. (And it’s so good I want to read it again!)
The Glass Hotel
by Emily St John Mandel
Read by Dylan Moore – 10h 28m
Rating – 9.5 / contemp. fiction
I was wrong. This is at least as good as Station Eleven. The structure is more interesting with alternating (almost random but not quite) time frames. The main characters (there are many characters!) are wonderfully well formed and developed within themselves as well as over time, but the edges of the characters aren’t terribly sharp and clear. The whole books is kind of dreamy in a way. They pop in and out of the time frames.
From “The Atlantic” review which is excellent and the link is below:
“The structure of The Glass Hotel is virtuosic, as the fragments of the story coalesce by the end of the narrative into a richly satisfying shape.”
The overall time frame is between 1994 (at the earliest) and 2018 as well as a brief foray into a snip of 2029. Most of the real action takes place between 2005 and 2013 including the stock market crash (see Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme) and on into the Great Recession which started then.
Some very important parts take place in a luxury hotel in the very northern part of Vancouver Island – the book’s “anchor” if it has one, but most of it takes place in New York with excursions elsewhere. as well as in prison. It’s like, as The Atlantic reviewer said, “ a jigsaw puzzle “which is missing the box. (You might say it’s also missing a frame – the edges but you never feel like you’re going to float off the page.
The plot involves a man who is now in prison for financial shenanigans and the people he’s involved with before, during and after his days of glory and the troubles many characters end up facing. The book asks what is real, reality, transient, etc. among other things.
The writing style matches the drifty, not quite real, ambiance of David Mitchell and the characters and setting match that so everything fits to create a whole. At one point the lead character sees ghosts. I took that as evidence that his mind was bending, but it’s open. This is not a major issue. Themes are more about money and alternative realities and choosing not to know stuff.
I have to mention that the narration by Dylan Moore is outstanding – it also matches the whole atmosphere of the book.
I love this book – it reminds me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for the structure and the dreaminess and the reappearing characters. I wonder if I’d gone into this book expecting the hype to pop what my response would have been – disappointment? I don’t know but that often happens to me with books which have been hyped.
There is an excellent character list which may come in handy. (It did for me!).
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/emily-st-john-mandel-glass-hotel/605548/ Great but wait until you’ve finished the book. The actual review starts half way down the piece which also talks a lot about Station Eleven and our plague of 2020. This piece also mentions the David Mitchell link (which I caught before reading that others thought the same thing).
https://therumpus.net/2020/03/the-rumpus-interview-with-emily-st-john-mandel/ An interview in which Mandell actually states that she based the structure on what Mitchell did in Cloud Atlas and how she really feels about Montreal. (She was quite hard on it in one of her books which I also read years ago.) There’s a lot of stuff in this interview about the meaning of having one character from one book lapse over into other novels. Very interesting – fascinating actually.
And from me to anyone in the All-nonfiction reading group there’s a bit of resonance in The Glass Hotel and Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener in that you know something but don’t know it – and that could be like the idea of our times maybe.