I don’t know, really, what I was expecting from this book and I’m also not sure that whatever those expectations were that they were met. I was able to watch an author discussion between Mandel and Isaac Fitzgerald hosted by the Greenlight bookstore in the spring when this book was released and I left that experience knowing that the book featured a Ponzi scheme and focused around the 2008 economic collapse, and that a main character died and also that estrangement of many types was a key theme. The synopsis from Goodreads also isn’t much help, check this out: Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.
And that was my overall reaction to the book, I was confused about what I was reading and how I was reacting to it, and there felt like an artificial distance had been placed between the reader and the characters. I can and do appreciate that Mandel is exploring something that is not beautiful, and that the characters are often emotionally empty inside, not able to create meaning in their lives. There are characters reckoning with the reality of having the structure of their lives ripped away by a single event they could not have imagined before it occurred, and in that way it reminded me of Station Eleven as well as Mandel’s style of switching between characters.
Mandel is unpacking what wealth does, what we allow it to mean. This is also a book about accountability and personal morality, and the ways in which our guilt manifests itself. It’s a great character study, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me right now. I’m pretty sure that’s COVID’s fault, I’ve had trouble sinking into anything deeper than romance and fanfic lately, and I hope in future I’ll be able to revisit this and see if it doesn’t improve in my estimation, because the writing to be stellar, but I never really found my footing.
Bingo Square: Book Club