Excerpt from The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel X
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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Print Excerpt


In early December he walked out of the library at the same time as Tim, who was in two of his classes and also preferred the last row of the lecture hall. "You doing anything tonight?" Tim asked. It was the first time anyone had asked him anything in a while.

"I was kind of hoping to find some live music somewhere." Paul hadn't thought of this before he said it, but it seemed like the right direction for the evening. Tim brightened a little. Their one previous conversation had been about music.

"I wanted to check out this group called Baltica," Tim said, "but I need to study for finals. You heard of them?"

"Finals? Yeah, I'm about to go down in flames."

"No. Baltica." Tim was blinking in a confused way. Paul remembered something he'd noticed before, which was that Tim seemed not to understand humor. It was like talking to an anthropologist from another planet. Paul thought that this should have created some kind of opening for friendship, but he couldn't imagine how that conversation would begin—I can't help but notice that you're as alienated as I am, can we compare notes?— and anyway Tim was already walking away into the dark autumn evening. Paul picked up copies of the alternative weeklies from the newspaper boxes by the cafeteria and walked back to his room, where he put on Beethoven's Fifth for company and then scanned the listings till he found Baltica, which was scheduled for a late gig at some venue he'd never heard of down at Queen and Spadina. When had he last gone out to hear live music? Paul spiked his hair, unspiked it, changed his mind and spiked it again, tried on three shirts, and left the room before he could make any further changes, disgusted by his indecisiveness. The temperature was dropping, but there was something clarifying about the cold air, and exercise was a therapeutic recommendation that he'd been ignoring, so he decided to walk.

The club was in a basement under a goth clothing store, down a steep flight of stairs. He hung back on the sidewalk for a few minutes when he saw this, worried that perhaps it would turn out to be a goth club—everyone would laugh at his jeans and polo shirt—but the bouncer barely seemed to notice him and the crowd was only about 50 percent vampires. Baltica was a trio: one guy with a bass guitar, another guy working an array of inscrutable electronics attached to a keyboard, and a girl with an electric violin. Whatever they were doing onstage sounded less like music than like some kind of malfunctioning radio, all weird bursts of static and disconnected notes, the kind of scattered ambient electronica that Paul, as a lifelong Beethoven fanatic, absolutely did not get, but the girl was beautiful so he didn't mind it at all, if he wasn't enjoying the music he could at least enjoy watching her. The girl leaned into the microphone and sang, "I always come to you," except there was an echo—the guy with the keyboard had pressed a foot pedal—so it was

I always come to you, come to you, come to you

—and it was frankly discordant, the voice with the keyboard notes and the bursts of static, but then the girl raised her violin, and this turned out to be the missing element. When she drew her bow the note was like a bridge between islands of static and Paul could hear how it all fit together, the violin and the static and the shadowy underpinning of the bass guitar; it was briefly thrilling, then the girl lowered her violin and the music fell apart into its disparate components, and Paul found himself wonder- ing once again how anyone listened to this stuff.

Later, when the band was drinking at the bar, Paul waited for a moment when the violinist wasn't talking to anyone and swooped in.

"Excuse me," he said, "hey, I just wanted to tell you, I love your music."

"Thanks," the violinist said. She smiled, but in the guarded manner of extremely beautiful girls who know what's coming next.

Excerpted from The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. Copyright © 2020 by Emily St. John Mandel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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