The Glass Hotel: A novel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Hardcover, 2020

Call number




Knopf (2020), 320 pages


"[A] novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it"--

Media reviews

It’s a beguiling conceit: the global financial crisis as a ghost story. As one of Alkaitis’s employees reflects of a swindled investor: “It wasn’t that she was about to lose everything, it was that she had already lost everything and just didn’t know it yet.” But Mandel’s abiding
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literary fascination is even more elemental: isn’t every moment – coiled with possibilities – its own ghost story? Isn’t every life a counterlife?... All contemporary novels are now pre-pandemic novels – Covid-19 has scored a line across our culture – but what Mandel captures is the last blissful gasp of complacency, a knowing portrait of the end of unknowing. It’s the world we inhabited mere weeks ago, and it still feels so tantalisingly close; our ache for it still too raw to be described as nostalgia. “Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilisation collapses ... Just so that something will happen?” a friend asks Vincent. Oh, for the freedom of that kind of reckless yearning.
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5 more
The Glass Hotel isn't dystopian fiction; rather it's "straight" literary fiction, gorgeous and haunting, about the porous boundaries between past and present, the rich and the poor, and the realms of the living and the dead.... This all-encompassing awareness of the mutability of life grows more
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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.
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The question of what people keep when they lose everything clearly intrigues Mandel.... By some miracle, although it’s hard to determine what it’s about, The Glass Hotel is never dull. The pleasure, which in the case of The Glass Hotel is abundant, lies in the patterns themselves, not in
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anything they mean. This novel invites you to inhabit it without striving or urging; it’s a place to be, always fiction’s most welcome effect.
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Mandel is a consummate, almost profligate world builder. One superbly developed setting gives way to the next, as her attention winds from character to character, resting long enough to explore the peculiar mechanics of each life before slipping over to the next.... The disappointment of leaving
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one story is immediately quelled by our fascination in the next.....what binds the novel is its focus on the human capacity for self-delusion, particularly with regards to our own innocence. Rare, fortunately, is the moral idiot who can boast, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” The complex, troubled people who inhabit Mandel’s novel are vexed and haunted by their failings, driven to create ever more pleasant reflections of themselves in the glass.
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This latest novel from the author of the hugely successful Station Eleven forgoes a postapocalyptic vision for something far scarier—the bottomless insecurity of contemporary life.... Highly recommended; with superb writing and an intricately connected plot that ticks along like clockwork, Mandel
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offers an unnerving critique of the twinned modern plagues of income inequality and cynical opportunism. [
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It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical.... In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is
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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.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member sturlington
I have only read one other book by Emily St. John Mandel--Station Eleven, which I loved--and this novel is very similar in that it follows a number of different characters, and it flits around in time and point of view, gradually weaving together the various storylines into a composed whole. Mandel
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is such a gifted writer that she makes this difficult achievement look effortless, and not once did I feel lost or confused while reading this. I was quite enthralled, actually. However, the story of a Ponzi scheme a la Bernie Madoff and the people who are affected by its eventual, inevitable exposure did not seem to me as compelling as the story of Station Eleven. I found it intellectually fascinating, but it didn't really speak to my soul. Only the glass hotel itself, an island of wealth and luxury in an isolated, wilderness setting, really sang to me, and there wasn't enough of it in a book that is named for it. Therefore, although I think Mandel's writing is impeccable, I couldn't rate this book as highly as Station Eleven, which was a favorite read of the year for me.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
Station Eleven is one of my favorite books of all time, partly because the writing is so incredible. So while I did not expect Emily St. John Mandel to reach that same special caliber of excellent she did with Station Eleven, I did expect the writing to be stellar. And for me, Mandel did not
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This book begins rather confusingly and switches gears, but once I made it a third of the way through the book, I found a rhythm and was engrossed by the story. This follows the 2008 economic crash but focuses on a few different characters and random connections that I did not expect. This is a book about accountability and personal morality, and the ways in which our guilt manifests itself.

It's a great character study, and I found it fascinating and engaging. I particularly enjoyed studying the 2008 crisis from a literary view, and this book hit all my checks for contemporary literary fiction. Your own mileage, of course, may vary.
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LibraryThing member icolford
In The Glass Hotel Emily St. John Mandel posits a world in which time circles back on itself and all things connect. The novel begins at the end, in December 2018. But the main action is set into motion many years earlier. In the 1990s Vincent and her half-brother Paul grow up in a remote part of
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Vancouver Island. Vincent is smart, observant and resourceful but impulsive, Paul creative but weak-willed, restless and perpetually dissatisfied, and both have trouble finding their footing in the adult world. A few years later brother and sister are working at the Hotel Caiette, a luxury hotel located on an isolated spit of land on the island’s northern tip. It is here that Vincent, in her early twenties and working as bartender, meets Jonathan Alkaitis, sixtyish, the hotel’s owner, an insanely wealthy financier who runs an investment firm. Alkaitis, recently widowed, gives Vincent his business card, and the encounter becomes a decisive turning point in Vincent’s life. She leaves the hotel and connects with Alkaitis in New York. The two reach an agreement, in which Vincent doesn’t have to worry about money and Jonathan has a much younger very attractive woman on his arm to show off at social events and client meetings. Though they don’t marry, Vincent willingly enters “The Kingdom of Money,” wears a gaudy ring and plays the part of trophy wife. The novel’s plot pivots on the financial collapse of 2008, when Alkaitis’s Ponzi scheme implodes and his financial empire crumbles (the novel’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment). Alkaitis is arrested and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Vincent pulls a disappearing act, eventually resurfacing as a cook on a container ship, the Neptune Cumberland. Mandel’s genius is multi-faceted but lies primarily in her ability to imagine into life myriad individualized, full-blooded characters whose fates matter, and weave them seamlessly and convincingly into the story. This gambit is one of the aspects of her artistic practice that makes Station Eleven so extraordinary, and it works just as well here. We meet a sizable cast of secondary characters in the pages of The Glass Hotel. All of them have significant roles to play, they give the novel moral heft, and they flesh out Mandel’s narrative with their distinctive perspectives on important incidents. Readers will also notice the novel’s malleable chronology. Mandel’s narrative skips around in time, shifting with ease years into the past in order to illuminate crucial moments in the present. With all that is going on in this novel, readers might not even notice the prose, which is fluent, subtly rhythmic and visually precise. The Glass Hotel is a suspenseful and haunting novel, one that lingers in the mind long after you finish it. It is also a further triumph for one of the most richly talented authors at work today.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
While Emily St. John Mandel's wonderful Station Eleven may not be the best stay-at-home-because-there-is-a-pandemic reading (read it, but maybe not right now), her new novel fits the bill perfectly. It's an absolutely engrossing read; I had an awful time pacing myself through it. An almost
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flawlessly executed story peopled with intensely human characters.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
The Glass Hotel is a getaway for the wealthy, accessible only by boat. It's where Vincent works briefly as a bartender, having grown up in the nearby village. It's where her brother also works as a janitor, until he is asked to leave by the night manager. The hotel is frequented by Leon, a shipping
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executive, and owned by Jonathan Alkaitis, who visits the hotel a few times a year, in part to recruit new investors. Emily St. John Mandel has written a novel, not about a pandemic or apocalypse, but about a Bernie Madoff-type character and all the people affected when his fragile and fraudulent empire collapses.

This novel involves a large cast of characters, with some getting a careful look into what their pasts were like before they met Alkaitis, others we meet mid-plot as they scramble to make sense of what happened. Throughout, the central character isn't Alkaitis, but his companion, Vincent, a woman willing to live an artificial life of opulence without looking too closely at what was bringing in all that money. Mandel has created a seamlessly woven plot and several gorgeous character studies in this novel. It lacks the imaginative world-building of Station Eleven, but with The Glass Hotel, Mandel shows that she is a master of her craft.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Almost no-one in The Glass Hotel is uncorrupted. From its outset to its end, or at rather across the splintered time line in whose parts it consists, one character after another is presented with a degree of appeal only to have that appeal undercut. Ostensibly, the story revolves around a young
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woman, Vincent, and her half-brother, Paul. At sometimes meaningful points their lives intersect, but Paul is mostly a lost cause from the beginning, so our hopes, if we have any rest with his sister, Vincent. Vincent is beautiful, self-aware, clear-eyed and comfortable with being bought. She makes a stunning trophy wife (or almost-wife) for a New York financier, Jonathan, who has a fine appreciation for appearance. And that’s because, we soon learn, his entire fiscal edifice is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, a Ponzi scheme bilking billions out of the rich and merely moderately well-off. Vincent may not be in on his scheme, but, as she notes, she’s not an idiot. And she has reconciled herself to accepting what is necessary in order to live in the kingdom of money.

Mandel sets up a complex and intricate web of characters whose paths eventually cross. It’s an impressive feat, I suppose. But it’s almost impossible to care about any of these characters. Even Vincent. And that’s a bit regrettable since it also leads the reader not to really care about the infernal and monstrously huge fraud being committed. We just don’t care. Yes, many lives are ruined. Yes, some individuals end up killing themselves (and others, who don’t, really should). But it all washes over the reader likes the waves trammelling one of those massive container ships plying the oceans.

At times Mandel can be a tremendously sensitive writer with a real eye for subtle connections. But sometimes that’s not enough. And so, although I enjoyed reading The Glass Hotel, and I think Mandel is a fine writer, I can’t really recommend it.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
I devoured this story. Full disclosure: I loved Station Eleven and highly anticipated this book.
Totally different stories, but both really interesting.
The book is broken up into three sections and each one has a different style (part 2 was my favourite) but all are great. "It's a small world" is a
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motif or theme in this book, but not the point. Pay attention to everyone who's given a name in the book, because they're going to be relevant again at some point. The story starts off lazily and then jumps ahead and comes back to unravel the leap and then does it again, and I love how the teasers help pull you through the story -- you know what will happen but you read on to find out how it happens. There is no hero in this book, no one person who "wins" or who you can root for in the story, but that's part of its attraction. There are lot of themes, points for discussion, questions left unanswered that would make this a great book club book. (Just look at the tags I gave this book to see how much of a mixed bag it is!) It does not follow the traditional novel structure or style and it does so with artistry and intrigue. I'll bet a re-read would reveal even more than I caught in the first round.
(There were some hints to Possible Worlds, a play that I've seen and studied by John Mighton, which is cool.)
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LibraryThing member Lindsay_W
The Booklist blurb on the back cover said it best “an intricate spider web of a story.” The threads that bond the characters in this story are intricate, and a tug on one character’s thread impacts the others. The reader’s job is to keep track of all the characters within a shifting
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timeline. It takes some work but you will be richly rewarded and find yourself thinking about these characters well after you finish reading.
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
This one is impossible to summarize. It’s a little bit about a luxury hotel on an island, a place that always feels a little bit out of normal time. It’s also about a crooked investment broker, and about two siblings who go their separate ways, lives occasionally bumping up against each other.
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And other things. It plays with the idea of liminal spaces, and with questions of morality. I enjoyed the fine writing, but I’m still not sure what I think of the story. I’m left with an unfinished feeling — not that I have a lot of unanswered questions, but I feel that there could be more to it, that maybe there’s something I’m not getting. That’s life, I suppose.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
Fans of Mandel's Station Eleven are right to be excited about her latest book, but should be warned that this book is very, very different. The book opens with a drowning, told in almost movie-like flashes of Vincent's physical and mental experiences as she drowns. I found myself returning to these
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first few pages repeatedly throughout the book as more and more of Vincent's life leading up to her drowning is revealed. So, nominally, this book is an answer to the question of why Vincent was drowning? Was she pushed (murdered), and if so by whom? Or did she fall? And what was she doing there in the first place?

Really, though, this book is about far more than that. Reading Vincent's story takes us to a remote corner of Canada (home of the eponymous glass hotel), the inside of a Ponzi scheme, and, as a direct consequence, jail. Each setting, each character is rendered almost like a fine painting, with depths and shadows you don't notice at first glance.

The narrative jumps around a bit, from character to character and back and forth in time, and it's not always clear where or when you are, but it works, if you go with the flow. Mandel is a powerful and flexible writer, has more than enough ability to pull off a very different kind of book than Station Eleven (although I wouldn't say no to a sequel!). Station Eleven may have put her firmly on the literary map, but The Glass Hotel makes clear that she is not going to bound by any one genre. I wonder which one she'll choose next.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I loved this book. It brought me back to Ms. Mandel's first book, Last Night in Montreal, which prompted me to read everything she writes. Until now, none of her other novels displaced her first in my rankings, but The Glass Hotel is my new favourite.

This is the story of Vincent, whose mother dies
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when she is 13, and her older half-brother Paul. Although they share a father, they aren't close because Paul resents the break-up of his parents' marriage. He tries to remind himself that it isn't Vincent's fault. Their paths cross when they both work at an isolated hotel but diverge quickly after Paul is suspected of etching graffiti in the glass wall of the building...the message being "Why don't you swallow broken glass?" Vincent ends up living with the hotel's owner, Jonathan, who is running a Ponzi scheme. The stories of the victims and some of Jonathan's staff are woven in and heartbreaking.

The writing is beautiful...I love the way she gets into the hearts of her characters. I will continue to read whatever she writes.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
After [Station Eleven], I was hoping to be blown into orbit by what proved to be a bitter, unpleasant sojourn among people I despised. In trademark lapidary prose, Author St. John Mandel gave me a detailed tour of dying, decaying, downwardly mobile lives, lifestyles, and livings. If you're looking
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for a book to make you glad you're not in it, this is the one for you; if not, I'd caution you that this feeling will most likely be the one that prevails when you're through.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
An exquisite novel of belonging and taking
LibraryThing member sleahey
I find it impossible to say who the main character of this novel is. There is a large cast of people who enter the story to varying degrees, and there are several locations as well as several themes. It is to the author's credit that we come to care about most of them, even as the chapters move
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around in time and place. What all the characters have in common is the importance of their relationship to money, both in poverty and super-abundance. The ephemeral nature of financial security is central to the character of Vincent, who in the course of the novel is a dishwasher, bartender, cook on a freighter, and pampered trophy wife. Several characters are both the beneficiaries and victims of Vincent's husband Alkaitis's Ponzi scheme empire, living first in extravagant wealth, and then "in the shadows" of poverty if they even survive at all. With varying degrees of introspection and responsibility, the characters respond to the criminal activities of many of them, giving us a glimpse into the dealings and disaster of Bernie Madoff. The Glass Hotel refers to a luxury hotel on a remote island off the western coast of Canada, owned by Alkaitis, near where Vincent and her brother Paul grew up and later worked. It is both a haven and a trap for some of the characters, just as wealth is, and many paths cross there in the unlikely wilderness.
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LibraryThing member nicole_a_davis
This held my attention for about 2/3 of the way, but as things wrapped up I found it less compelling and wasn't sure what to take away from it. The structure of the book was really interesting. It almost seemed like the plot was secondary; it more like a web of characters and as you met new
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characters you'd go back and forth in time with them.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Emily St. John Mandel's surreal novel "The Glass Hotel" centers around the 2008 financial crisis. The primary characters are a Bernie Madoff-like character named Jonathan Alkaitis, his young wife Vincent, and her brother, Paul.

Paul is an addict and artist, and Vincent is a filmmaker and bartender.
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Alkaitis is running a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme and owns, among many other things, a hotel made of glass and cedar, accessible only by water, on an island in northern Vancouver. Vincent is tending bar in the hotel when Alkaitis, more than 30 years her senior, sweeps her up into an unromantic romance and into what Vincent calls "the kingdom of money."

The hotel represents the dream of easy wealth that propels the victims of the financial meltdown. While the novel jumps around in time, at any moment, past or present, a character might make a choice to veer off in what seems like an artificial direction, onto a life trajectory that should never have been. This is as true for the corporation's employees as it is for the investors in the Ponzi scheme. Ghosts haunt the characters in the novel who caused their deaths, but there is no haunting by those departed loved ones—such as Alkaitis's wife and Vincent's mother—whose loss is so enormous that their losses make everything unreal and lower the stakes of all choices after they are gone.

Social media, fantasies, consumerism, and short films all keep grim reality at a safe remove, reframed and reframed again. Moving money, popping pills, vanishing with a new identity, the long arm of the law on your shoulder, plummeting into poverty: all of these can conjure up an unrecognizable life. Just as the glass hotel vanishes into the forest and the fog, choice and fate, the real life and the "otherlife," become hopelessly blurred.

More explanations and connections in the denouement would have improved the novel. Some of the characters and situations that were interesting at the beginning seemed to lead to dead ends. However, the novel succeeded in capturing my imagination and I enjoyed the spell the author cast throughout the novel of slipping into the shadowy and perilous margins between intertwined lives and destinies, which was quite brilliantly done.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher and was encouraged to submit a review.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
not usually attracted to books that feature financial elements, but in this case I made an exception. Simply because I love how this author writes and the way she puts together a story. I'm so glad I went with my intuition, which shows sometimes you just need to trust a favored author.

Although this
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is about a Ponzi scheme, it is so much more. It is the story of Vincent, a female, named after Edna St. Vincent Milay , and she is a fasinating character. A sort of chameleon, trying to find her way through life after the death of her mother. Jonathan is the initiator of the Ponzi scheme, something that will effect many lives, including Vincents.

The writing is equisite, the story clips along at a steady pace and i found it quite addicting. It is at heart the story of the haves and have nots, unreal monetary expectations. Con men and those who allow themselves to be conned. The choices one makes, where one mistake can equivocally change ones fate. The connections one makes and those that just seem to happen. Alternate realities, where one sees different choices played out. Do you think it possible for one to actually see their consciences become real? Something to ponder.

I thought this was a terrific and very different story.
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LibraryThing member GrandmaCootie
The Glass Hotel tells a moving, haunted story, about people and events and choices. It takes place in the woods and in the city, on an island, on a ship, ranging from simple life with only the basics to the rarefied air of the very rich, where life is nothing like most of us know or ever will know.
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It’s full of fascinating characters – a (mostly) recovering opioid addict, a bartender, cook, wife, artist, hotel concierge, fraudulent investment banker and his victims - all with some little quirk, something that makes you remember them, and makes you ask yourself, “Are we all like that? Just a little bit off?” Everyone has a secret past or hasn’t quite found the happiness, satisfaction or peace they thought their choices, their luck, their wild success would bring them. But what is luck or choice or is this just the way life is? Are those really ghosts they see, or are those just the things and people and events your mind won’t let you forget, always places just at the outside of your vision, to remind you of what was, what is, and what might have been?

The Glass Hotel is a melancholy tale, weaving in and out of these characters’ lives, highlighting turning points and roads not taken, leading to the now and away from the what if? A cloud cover of sadness and regret, not quite happy, hovers over everything. The story is full of lies, loss, anger, hatred, resentment, and fleeting happiness.

Author Emily St. John Mandel has created an environment with a cast of characters so compelling you can’t turn away. Once you meet them you need to follow their stories, and it makes you think about your own life. Have your choices led you to where you are, or is it fate? I received an advance copy of The Glass Hotel from the publisher, Penguin Random House. All opinions are my own. Emily St. John Mandel is an excellent writer and has told an excellent story that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
“Begin at the end” and so this book does. It begins in a remote hotel on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Owned by a wealthy New Yorker, the reader has no idea that this guy is heading a Ponzi scheme. Revolving around a girl, Vincent, who lived here and then was sent to Vancouver to live
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with her aunt, the reader is introduced to several people who were ruined by investing their money. When the NY financier asked Vincent to come live with him as his wife, she does and her life changes dramatically. She can see how the rich live and the freedom it gives her. She’s a trophy wife without the benefit of marriage. But everything shatters when the corruption is revealed. Well-developed characters as well as descriptions of the settings make this a worthwhile novel.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Mrs. Mantel says she likes non-linear books and mentions Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad as the kind of jigsaw puzzle that appeals to her and I have to say to me too.
Her latest novel The Glass Hotel fulfills that structure and has done the almost impossible, managing to rival her prizewinning
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novel Station Eleven, a novel that by the way takes place in a apocalyptic world after a pandemic. Even she does not recommend reading that right now. The plot revolves around various people that all seem somewhat attached to a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme and it's affects, both to those that were wiped out and those that perpetuated the illusion. Another strand of the novel is about a brother and half sister. Vincent, named after the poet Millay, lost her mother at 13, got kicked out of school for vandalizing it with the phrase "sweep me up", and later winds up as a bartender who intertwines herself with the rich, investment advisor Jonathan Alkaitis. He describes his attraction to her: "she’s got a very particular kind of gift.”
“What’s that?”
“She sees what a given situation requires, and she adapts herself accordingly.”
She becomes part of the country of wealth until circumstances change. "What kept her in the kingdom was the previously unimaginable condition of not having to think about money, because that's what money gives you: the freedom to stop thinking about money. If you've never been without, then you won't understand the profundity of this, how absolutely this changes your life."
Her brother Paul, who has been in and out of rehab, tries to get in together in college in Toronto. He seeks out his sister after slipping a tainted pill to a guy who dies hours later; it's a good idea to leave. He winds up working at the same unusually situated hotel where Vincent bartends. The Glass Hotel sits on an island off the coast of Vancouver, only accessible by boat. The manager explains: "Our guests in Caiette want to come to the wilderness, but they don’t want to be in the wilderness. They just want to look at it, ideally through the window of a luxury hotel. They want to be wilderness-adjacent. The point extraordinary luxury in an unexpected setting. There’s an element of surrealism to it, frankly. It’s a five-star experience in a place where your cell phone doesn’t work.” But that job is short lived for Paul and ends with his own vandalism that reverberates throughout the novel.
Besides these two narratives there are whole other themes explored. Chapters that jump to the future show the convict Jonathan living in a kind of Counterlife where his fantasy and memory are merging together and he is frequented by ghosts of former clients whose abrupt endings were tied to him. One of his former customers, Leon,(actually a character from Station Eleven) goes from wealth to traveling the country in an RV, living in what he refers to as a shadow country, :" a country located at the edge of an abyss. He’d been aware of the shadowland forever, of course. He’d seen its more obvious outposts: shelters fashioned from cardboard under overpasses, tents glimpsed in the bushes alongside expressways, houses with boarded-up doors but a light shining in an upstairs window. He’d always been vaguely aware of its citizens, people who’d slipped beneath the surface of society, into a territory without comfort or room for error; they hitchhiked on roads with their worldly belongings in backpacks, they collected cans on the streets of cities, they stood on the Strip in Las Vegas wearing T-shirts that said GIRLS TO YOUR ROOM IN 20 MINUTES, they were the girls in the room. He’d seen the shadow country, its outskirts and signs, he’d just never thought he’d have anything to do with."
Obviously I loved this novel and there's a lot to ponder here. So I thank Ms. Mantel for taking the five years of restructuring this story until all the pieces of this intricate puzzle came satisfyingly together. Highly recommend .
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Glass Hotel, Jill St., Emily St. John Mandel, author, Dylan Moore, narrator
The first words of import in the book are, “begin at the end”. It is December 2018. Someone is falling over the side of a ship. Then, suddenly, the narrative reveals an incident when that person was 13 and living in
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Caiette. The narrative continues to move to different points in time, i.e., 1994, 1999, 2005, etc. Many characters are introduced. They disappear and reappear throughout the book, and sometimes, it is hard to remember in what context they first showed up.
As the story develops, through the experiences and memories of the various characters it begins to reveal itself. Each of the major characters seems fatally flawed. Each seems to have a price at which they could be bought and made willing to push the envelope of their lives into gray areas. The main character, Vincent, named for the Edna Vincent Millay, is easily persuaded to become involved with Jonathan Alkaitis, a man of great wealth. She meets him one night, when she is working as a bartender. After they get to know each other, he offers her a fairytale life in what she calls the “kingdom of money”. It is an offer she cannot refuse.
Jonathan and Vincent pretend to be married because he believes that in his profession, he runs an investment firm, his investors would not look kindly on their “arrangement”. They might not think he was trustworthy if she was just his mistress. There are more than three decades separating them, and Vincent is actually five years younger than Jonathan’s daughter, Claire. However, Vincent is a perfect “companion” for him. She is well liked, easily understands his cues and makes excellent conversation with his clients. She is impeccably decked out at all times via the use of a credit card that he has given to her. Together, they live extravagantly, travel widely and enjoy their luxurious life until the day it all comes apart.
When the world comes crashing down because of Jonathan’s fall from grace, Vincent alters her outlook on life. She no longer wants to impress people with her appearance. No longer perfectly coifed and made up, she changes her hairstyle, removes her make-up, and becomes less noticeable. Ultimately she takes a job working as an assistant chef on the ship, Neptune Cumberland, where she remains for almost a decade. She works on board for 9 months, and then she is off for three, at which time she travels. She develops a very close relationship with another shipmate, Geoffrey Bell, and seems content, until the night she inexplicably goes missing. There were no witnesses to her disappearance, but she is never seen again.
Jonathan Alkaitis was arrested for conducting a ponzi scheme. Operating his legitimate business on one floor and his fraudulent investment firm on another, he duped his investors in a way eerily similar to the real life ponzi scheme criminal, Bernie Madoff. In the end, Alkaitis swindled his investors by robbing Peter to pay Paul as he provided some influential investors the return on their money that they demanded, at the expense of the others who became his victims. Some people lost their entire life savings because of him. Lives were destroyed. People went to prison.
The book is entertaining once the pieces begin to fall into place, but a good deal of the time it did feel confusing because it bounced around so much. Still, it was a good read, though perhaps it would have been better in print. When the book ends, there are no more loose ends.
Each character dreams of a life that is not fulfilled or realized. There own choices, however, were responsible for the way their lives played out. Some opportunities came their way that could randomly change the course of their lives, but their would be consequences for those choices. I wondered, at the end, do all of us have a price at which we can be bought? Are most of us willing to sell our souls to the devil if we get the right offer? With the mention of the Swine Flu and the term pandemic, and with the theme of the investment fraud, so reminiscent of the real life incident of Bernie Madoff, the book propels itself back into the present time with a bang and becomes very relevant.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
I love her writing. The ending made complete sense but.....I really didn’t like it.
LibraryThing member ozzer
The complicated plot of THE GLASS HOTEL is quite wonderful. It revolves around a fascinating group of characters all of whom are interconnected in various ways. The key element of the story is a Ponzi scheme reminiscent of the Madoff scandal. Everyone links in some way to the scandal or its
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perpetrator, Jonathan Alkaitis. Some lost their life savings, others worked for him at his Manhattan offices or at his hotel in the far reaches of Vancouver Island. Although the novel doesn’t have a clear protagonist, a woman named Vincent is prominent. Her story is the coming-of-age saga of an orphan who lived in the vicinity of the Hotel Caiette as a child. She meets Alkaitis while tending bar there. While pretending to be married to him, Vincent lives a life of unimaginable opulence in Manhattan as a kept woman.

Superficially, this is a story about greed, delusion, class, and immorality similar to Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Yet Mandel seems to be striving for something more. The need people feel to acquire things without any real investment in them is a recurring theme. The hotel is set in an isolated and idyllic natural environment. Its glass facade is for wealthy people who want to view nature, but not actually be in it. That experience eventually is tainted by a threat etched into the glass. Likewise, Alkaitis’ investors want wealth but are unwilling to take risks for it. They know there is something off about his investment firm but would rather not actually know. That delusion also becomes tainted when the FBI comes calling. Similarly, Vincent revels in the lifestyle Alkaitis gives her, but is unwilling to look too deeply into how he acquires his wealth.

The characters are fully realized and nuanced. Most are flawed and thus deeply unsympathetic. However, Vincent alone, seems to come to an understanding of what is important for a life well-lived, but fails to experience it for very long. This is not a plot spoiler as Mandel reveals Vincent’s tragic outcome in the first chapter. The story fills in the blanks about how she got there.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
The Hotel Caiette is an extraordinary setting for the start of the novel. It's on Vancouver Island in a remote area where few go. The perfect place for love, rivalry, greed, and betrayal! Emily St. John Mandel slowly unfolds a plot that keeps the reader on their toes. Lots of great minor characters
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that all tie into the story of Vincent, a female, named after poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Cleverly laid out perfectly, a fun, engrossing mystery!
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
If you're looking for a character driven novel, or a story that really dives deep into the players and victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, then this is the book for you. Or if you're looking for excellent writing, with insight on the deception people use in their relationships with friends,
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family and themselves, then this is your book. But if you're looking for a story that has anything like a linear plot, then stay away. Or a story that gives you the feeling after you finish the last page that you know what really happened.

Reading this book had its ups and downs. I actually loved the parts based on the whole Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. This books puts a face on the people who were involved, both the perpetrators and the people who lost everything and you see how people got drawn into the scheme. But by the end of the book, I felt a little lost. St. John Mandel definitely has a writing style that makes you feel like the world is a bit surreal and, for me, it's unsettling.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2021)
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book (Fiction — 2020)
Scotiabank Giller Prize (Longlist — 2020)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2021)


0525521143 / 9780525521143
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