Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Glass Hotel: Emily St. John Mandel


When I started reading The Glass Hotel, I thought that Paul Smith and his half-sister Vincent Smith would be the central characters. As the story opens, they are in high school. Paul resents Vincent because as a child she got to live with his father and her mother full time, whereas he only spent summers and every other Christmas with his father. He knows that is not Vincent's fault but he cannot let it go. They have a very troubled relationship.

However, later it seems that Vincent and Paul are minor characters and the story revolves more around a very rich man, Jonathan Alkaitis, who Vincent lives with for several years. (Vincent was named after the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay.) Paul and Vincent are more like bookends to the story of Alkaitis and his financial dealings.

The biggest plot point is an illegal financial scheme, but it takes a while to show up. Later, there are vignettes that focus on what happens to those injured by the scheme and those who kept it going. However, the mechanics of the scheme are not emphasized and you don't need to know much about finance to enjoy it. This book is much more about the characters.


My thoughts:

  • I did not love this book immediately, but I was intrigued. It picked up at the midpoint, and by the end I loved it. I like the structure and I like the way that Mandel tells the story.
  • The book has lots of elements that tie together at the end but it often seems like many separate but connected stories. That format worked well for me, but many readers won't like that.
  • I saw similarities between this book and several of the books of Chris Pavone, especially The Expats and The Paris Diversion, which mostly revolve around espionage plots. Information is given out to the reader a bit at a time, as the story unfolds. Also, many of the characters are acting almost all the time, pretending to be someone that they are not, even with those closest to them. 
  • There is a huge cast of characters, most of whom show up now and then throughout the book. That can be confusing. 
  • Some of the characters with the smallest roles were the most interesting to me. One of my favorites was Walter, the night manager of the Hotel Caiette, which is a very expensive, exclusive hotel on a small island off the north coast of Vancouver Island. Not many of the characters in the story are happy. Walter loves the isolation of the hotel and is happier at this job than he has ever been in his life. He only shows up at the beginning and end of the book.
  • There are supernatural elements, although I could not figure out if they were intended to be real or imagined. Either way, I enjoyed that element in this book.


Emily St. John Mandel is a Canadian novelist. She has also written The Singer's Gun, Last Night in Montreal, The Lola Quartet, Station Eleven, and Sea of Tranquility.



14 comments:

Cath said...

I've read her Sea of Tranquility and it didn't leave much of an impact to the point where I'm struggling to remember much about it despite having just looked at my short review of the book. I will try more by her though if I spot something at the library.

pattinase (abbott) said...

THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY is sitting on my desk. I have read STATION ELEVEN and liked it. It was the Michigan Reads book about a decade ago and I heard her speak at the library. Very impressive speaker.

Margot Kinberg said...

It sounds like an unusual sort of book Tracy. I've read books that more or less string stories together, and they can be confusing. This sounds like a really interesting set of character studies and a look at how characters interact. I'm glad you ended up having a positive reading experience.

TracyK said...

Cath, it is good to hear from you. I had forgotten about Sea of Tranquility until I wrote this post. I will look out for that and other books by Mandel at the book sale this year. I think I would like Sea of Tranquility because I like time travel, but it is done so many ways so who knows. Some of her earlier books are labeled as crime fiction although she did not intend them to be in that genre, so I think I will enjoy those.

Kathy's Corner said...

There are booktubers who have raved aout the Sea of Tranquility and so I might put it on my list. In The Glass Hotel and the estranged relationship between the brother and sister is not uncommon in real life. But to my knowledge not explored as much in fiction. I wonder if it's because its a difficult subject when one is no longer close to one's siblings and writers tend to avoid it.

Sam said...

I find her books kind of difficult for some reason. I have only read Station Eleven and The Sea of Tranquility, and of the two I liked Station Eleven by far. I'm a fan of time travel novels, but The Sea of Tranquility mystified me and bored me more than anything else. I finished the whole thing, but could just never get into it long enough in one stretch to feel comfortable with its construction.

TracyK said...

Patti, the only book I have on my shelves by Mandel is The Singer's Gun. Her first novel.

TracyK said...

Margot, I usually like books with unusual structures, but I must be lucky and run into ones where the writing and characters intrigue me.

TracyK said...

Sam, I liked Station Eleven a lot but I have forgotten a lot of it now. I still have a copy, so I might reread it again someday. If you did not like the time travel in Sea of Tranquility, possibly I won't either, but I will definitely give it a try someday.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I find with Mandel's books that many people love them and about the same number really dislike them. Although I had sympathy for both the brother and the sister in this book, I think they were both so self-absorbed that they did not connect at all. This book reminded me that we all have problems with our families but at least my childhood was stable and non-threatening.

CLM said...

I've never read this author and for some reason thought her books were all futuristic, which did not appeal to me. This sounds interesting although sounds a bit odd that Paul and Vincent are not major characters.

TracyK said...

Constance, her first three novels don't sound futuristic at all, but she did not get a lot of attention until Station Eleven. She also said somewhere that she did not consider that one science fiction, but I think apocalyptic books get lumped under that category. I like the way she writes, so I will probably enjoy all of her books, whatever genre or time frame.

Clothes In Books said...

I loved Station Eleven, so have been thinking of reading something else by her - I found your description tempting. I will add it to my list, though goodness knows when I will get to it!

TracyK said...

Moira, I agree, Station Eleven was a wonderful book. I am willing to try anything she writes.