REVIEW: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

In brief: A story of family, deception, loss and mystery – think an isolated hotel, a brother and sister, a ship and a Ponzi scheme.

The good: Brilliantly written across a wide range of subjects.

The not-so-good: Sat too long unread on my shelf.

Why I chose it: I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Station Eleven. Thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 301

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: Canada, US, Europe

Rating: 9 out of 10

Emily St. John Mandel is an author whose name has been coming up regularly on ‘to read during a pandemic’ lists because of Station Eleven, which is about a flu pandemic. Now I’m too chicken to read this at the moment, so I chose her most recent novel instead. Once this pandemic is over though, I’ll be heading straight for Station Eleven because wow, what an author Mandel is! She has that rare ability to make literary fiction read like a thriller, no matter what the topic.

The Glass Hotel is about a number of different things- loss, addiction, a Ponzi scheme, gaol and shipping. You might think that you really don’t care to read about the shadiness of the finance market or container ships, but trust me – you do. Mandel could take any topic and make it fascinating. She also has the rare ability of bringing together a number of disparate characters and making the reader care for them, and what happens to them. A rich man in a hotel bar with money to invest? You’ll be concerned for him when he’s living in an RV trying to make ends meet working in an online retailer warehouse. The man who owns the hotel and a lot of money belonging to other people? You’ll share his concerns when he thinks he is losing his mind.

It’s difficult to explain the plot of The Glass Hotel without spoilers or making it seem too separate. But think of it as the story of a number of people who are in a beautiful, remote hotel one night when something shocking happens. Little do each of them know what is going to happen to them in the future, but it will all be wildly different from what they expect. None will continue on that same path and for some, the journey will be wildly different. The characters are interlinked, but the hotel is the setting where they all come together for the first (and possibly the last time). The plot is magnificent, giving each character deep details into their life, thoughts and concerns. No one is unlikeable, but all have their own flaws (even though some choose not to recognise them). The plot seems as though it is shrouded in mist, as everything has a slight other-worldly feeling about it. It creates a mesmerising effect and I dare any reader not to become absorbed by this novel, wondering what will happen and how each of the characters will be affected. My only complaint is that the graffiti scrawled at the hotel didn’t seem to warrant the shocked reaction from the characters (it’s not obscene or targeting), but be patient and all will be revealed.

Even though it contains no mention of a pandemic, it’s the kind of story you want to read during one because it moves the reader’s focus solely to the book. Beautiful and absorbing, read it even if you have no interest in finance or shipping.

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