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Summary and book reviews of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

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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  • Published:
    Mar 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven , an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events - a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby's glass wall: "Why don't you swallow broken glass." Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients' accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant's. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

1

VINCENT IN THE OCEAN

December 2018

1
Begin at the end: plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm's wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain—

2
Sweep me up. Words scrawled on a window when I was thirteen years old. I stepped back and let the marker drop from my hand and still I remember the exuberance of that moment, that feel- ing in my chest like light glinting on crushed glass—

3
Have I risen to the surface? The cold is annihilating, the cold is all there is—

4
A strange memory: standing by the shore at Caiette when I was thirteen years old, my brand-new video camera cool and strange in my hands, filming the waves in five-minute intervals, and as I'm filming I hear my own voice whispering, "I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home," although where is home if not there?

5
Where am I? Neither in nor out of the ocean, I can't feel the cold anymore or actually anything, I am aware of a border but I can't...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While not necessarily a thriller, there's an addictive, almost obsessive quality that compels the reader to turn pages both out of excitement and anxiety. The Glass Hotel is Mandel at the top of her craft: from prose to structure to character work to emotional heft, it's a supple, poignant book, as suspenseful as it is quietly affecting...continued

Full Review (525 words).

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(Reviewed by Rachel Hullett).

Media Reviews

New York Times
I wasn’t sure whether Mandel wants us to think that the wealthy are more interesting than we think, or just as lame as the caricatures have it, but if it was the former, she doesn’t succeed in showing us how, and the latter is not a very stirring premise for a novel...Mandel’s interest seems to lie more in pointing out the ways random lives intersect rather than deriving anything enlightening from the fact that they do...To her credit, these encounters don’t feel contrived, and certainly never for plot reasons.

Washington Post
An ephemeral quality permeates the novel. Many of the characters are haunted and most of the story is told in flashbacks to various times in Vincent’s life...The thrill of The Glass Hotel is that the pieces do eventually connect, from Vancouver to the glittering skyscrapers of New York...The final chapter is haunting, taking readers full circle to those words spoken by Raphael about time and space ceasing to exist. It’s a sense readers will enjoy as well when they lose themselves in Mandel’s novel.

NPR
This all-encompassing awareness of the mutability of life grows more pronounced as The Glass Hotel reaches its eerie sea change of an ending. In dramatizing so ingeniously how precarious and changeable everything is, Mandel's novel is topical in a way she couldn't have foreseen when she was writing it.

The Atlantic
The structure of The Glass Hotel is virtuosic, as the fragments of the story coalesce by the end of the narrative into a richly satisfying shape...In our own fractured times, omniscient narrators have come to be viewed with suspicion, and an experimental minimalism often seems to be the only way to describe our lives now. Mandel’s affirmation that a somewhat old-fashioned fictional model is not only relevant to our alarming new world but also deeply appropriate for it manages, remarkably, to feel both consoling and revolutionary.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure. A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness.

Booklist (starred review)
Another tale of wanderers whose fates are interconnected… nail-biting tension… Mandel weaves an intricate spider web of a story… A gorgeously rendered tragedy.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Ponzi Schemes

Charles PonziIn Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel, the protagonist finds herself ensnared in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street investor. The "Ponzi scheme" takes its name from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant and businessman who lived in Boston in the early 20th century. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investments in which a business will promise above-average returns to investors under the guise that these returns are coming from above-average sales—in actuality, the funds are coming from other investors. Historically described as "robbing Peter to pay Paul," the Ponzi scheme provides the illusion of sustainable business to investors who are continuously lured in until the scheme eventually collapses.

The first known Ponzi scheme was ...

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