Review: The Glass Hotel
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel (2020)
Meh. I don't get it. This was a disappointing read because Mandel's book Station Eleven is one of my all-time favorites.
Here is the best review I saw of this book:
"This was the Bernie Madoff story fancied up with a hot mistress and ghosts. It held my interest, despite its confusing organization, but ultimately it was pointless."
Pretty accurate. It's actually hard to know what this book was really about. It felt like Mandel had a lot of disparate ideas and characters that could have inhabited books all on their own, but instead she threw them all into The Glass Hotel without much conviction.
The story follows two estranged half-siblings who grew up on a tiny, inaccessible island off the coast of British Columbia. Paul is a failed composer and drug addict, and Vincent is a listless young woman whose mother has disappeared (does that matter to the story? Nope). The story jumps around from there to different eras of their lives, bumping into other people who will show up again later... I normally love a book that has a bunch of seemingly unconnected characters, and as you read you slowly learn how they are all connected. But in this case, the connections felt tenuous and flimsy. Like, how many random coincidences can there really be that keep putting these people together in the same spaces?!
There is also a luxury hotel on this same remote island, filled with a bunch of other minor characters who never really get their due on the page. And we have a rich financier running a collapsing Ponzi scheme in NYC, with a bunch more people orbiting him that are, similarly, not well fleshed-out. And also ghosts? There are ghosts, for some reason.
I keep vacillating between wanting LESS from this book - less plot, fewer disjointed storylines - and wanting MORE from it - more backstory for the main characters, more motive. It's too many things, and not enough of anything. I picture Tim Gunn on Project Runway telling a contestant they have too many ideas all thrown onto one dress. Pare it down and punch it up!
Ultimately, I don't think this book gets any hype without the triumph of Station Eleven.
UP NEXT: Long Division, by Kiese Laymon