The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Jonathan Alkaitis made a vast fortune investing other people’s money. On one of his many trips to the hotel he owns––the dazzling Hotel Caiette, located on a remote British Columbia island––he hits it off with the bartender, Vincent, and carries her off into a life of luxury as his trophy wife. And he finds another investor at the same time, of course, because Alkaitis’ returns are unbelievably amazing. But there’s a reason he’s so successful. The longer Vincent spends by his side, the more she senses deceit in both his character and his business dealings. And then everything falls apart. The Glass Hotel is a story about the growth and the subsequent implosion of a Ponzi scheme, but it’s also much more than that. Throughout, St. John Mandel explores the lives of those connected to and affected by the crime in a commentary about what it takes to abandon one’s conscience, convictions, and better judgment.

I don’t think I’ve been so thoroughly impressed with a novel in a long time. The author writes with such insight, and this takes on various forms throughout The Glass Hotel. Frequently, compelling concepts that caused me to stop and reflect were presented simply, cleanly, and we moved on from them quickly. While this may cause readers to pass over profound moments without noticing them, it works to the benefit of the narrative when the author doesn’t pause to explain what happened. Effectively, the heart of the story gains weight without harming the pacing, flow, or plot––though it may take multiple readings to truly understand the impact. And sometimes these ideas get tied to characters, where they become especially interesting to me. Character thoughts sometimes echo things I’ve felt, usually creating verisimilitude in the process. Other times, they delve into finer details of subjects that I may not have previously understood, expressed in a way that feels like it offers a glimpse of the truth to an outsider. This gives a sense of specialized comprehension that the respective character has for the topic, making them become more alive in the process. The important piece of all this is that character emotions begin to feel real, which subsequently adds emotional weight to St. John Mandel’s arguments.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t any elements I disliked while reading The Glass Hotel. However, everything I didn’t like was small and superficial––the author leaning on an expression that felt overused, for example. It’s amazing to see how little something like that mattered while reading when so much in the outer plot and the inner soul of the book felt so solid.