The Glass Hotel (2020) – Emily St.John Mandel

Title:The Glass Hotel
Author:Emily St.John Mandel
Date published:2020
Publisher/s:Picador/Pan Macmillan SA
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Pan Macmillan SA kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

“The property’s in the middle of nowhere….but that’s precisely the point”

“It’s wilderness up there…but let me tell you a secret about wilderness… Very few people who go to the wilderness actually want to experience the wilderness. Almost no one”

In this icy and atmospheric novel the Hotel Caiette situated on the tip of Vancouver Island is a magical space made of glass and situated in the middle of forests and is only accessible by boat. It is frequented by only the extremely wealthy who go there to experience luxury in the most isolated of places. The year is 2005 and a young beautiful bartender named Vincent has just seen the words “why don’t you swallow broken glass” written in acid paste on the glass of the hotel overlooking the wildness beyond. She pretends not to remember the time she once wrote on a window in acid paste what seems like a very long time ago. Before the words are discreetly hidden by a conveniently placed pot-plant, Vincent’s brother Paul, who works as a janitor, one of the hotel’s more prominent guest’s Leon Prevant, the owner of Neptune Avramidis shipping, and the hotel’s new night manager Walter are also witnesses to the shocking words that are discovered around four o’clock in the morning.

Jonathan Alkaitis is the charming and wealthy owner of Caiette who falls for Vincent’s mysterious beauty and intelligent conversation, and before very long he has offered her the chance to leave behind her childhood home and to change her life forever. Now Vincent Alkaitis she finds herself living in what she refers to as “the kingdom of money” – a place where you never look at the price of anything and where you can disappear and become anyone new and interesting you wish to be. Vincent makes friends among the wealthy investors of her new husband’s firm and is every bit the glamorous ‘trophy’ wife to a man who is running what appears to be a very profitable investment firm. Despite this drastic change in lifestyle and status Vincent continues to pursue her strange hobby of making videos with her camera – always in five minute increments – something she did as a kid with a video camera given to her by her grandmother.

PONZI: a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors from funds from recent investors.

It is the year 2008 and Jonathan’s great investment scheme has been discovered to be fraudulent. In the boardroom along with his most trusted advisers and members of staff he utters these most damning words:

“Look,… we all know what we do here.”

All of a sudden the “kingdom of money” that kept Jonathan and Vincent, and the numerous investors and advisors rich and (possibly) oblivious, crashes down around them and all that is left is a mountain of paper shredders, the inability to sleep and the constant reminder that they did in fact know what was going on all along. Except for perhaps the people that lost all their money…

In 2009 Jonathan Alkaitis is in jail and Vincent has disappeared from his life, though one has to wonder whether she ever really entered his life at all. From the time they met he was full of secrets and in a way that suited Vincent just fine as she was prone to secrets herself. Years later Vincent will reappear in the galley of a Neptune Avramidis ship as a cook without even a hint of being the Vincent she once was. Then one night during a massive storm she goes out on the ship’s deck and is never seen again. Did someone push her overboard or was she simply taking some very dangerous footage of the raging seas?

The novel’s time-frame switches between the time before and after Jonathan’s Ponzi scheme collapses, and shifts between characters as individual lives are affected by a great secret that held them all together, and subsequently tore them all apart. In so many ways though Mandel’s eerie narrative is not so much about the present and the consequences that brought the many characters to their dark places, but rather the ghostly presence of their pasts, and how sometimes it is the snippets of memories of a life lived that help keep the monsters at bay.

2 thoughts on “The Glass Hotel (2020) – Emily St.John Mandel”

  1. As always thank you for your kind words Bill and for reading my reviews. It’s an interesting read and I am sure you will enjoy it if you’re up for a unique thriller of sorts!

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