I’ve seen a number of comparisons between Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel (2020) by Emily St. John Mandel. It seems that the majority of people prefer Station Eleven. I remember liking Station Eleven, but it has been so long I honestly cannot remember it well enough to compare it to The Glass Hotel. And I really liked The Glass Hotel–probably more than many of the reviews I’ve seen.
The plot is kind of hard to sum up. There are a lot of characters that may overlap but don’t necessarily have too much in common. I’m going to call Vincent the main character. She grew up in a very rural part of Vancouver accessible only by boat. When she was a teenager, her mother disappeared in the ocean. When Vincent gets older, she begins to bartend at the Hotel Caiette, an incredibly luxurious, beautiful hotel in the same area of Vancouver. The entire front is made up of windows.
While working one evening, Vincent meets the owner, Jonathan Alkaitis, and the two hit it off. Very quickly, Vincent becomes the wife of one of the richest men in America. Her change of scenery, expectations, and obligations changes drastically. St. John Mandel describes living with money as an actual place–“the kingdom of money”–a location where everything is beautiful and you can have whatever you want. The other side of that is the “shadowland” where suffering people go unnoticed. There was a foreboding omen the night Vincent and Jonathan meet. Someone etched in the front glass window, “Why don’t you swallow broken glass?” It is not until near the end of the book that the reader discovers how and why this occurred.
A large part of the plot is that Jonathan Alkaitis is running a huge Ponzi scheme, and the consequences have yet to come crashing down. Many people who work for Alkaitis will be going to jail, and a large number of people are about to lose their life savings. One of these unfortunate people is the shipping executive Leon Prevant, who also happens to be at the hotel that night. Leon is impressed by Alkaitis and gives him all of his money to invest.
Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, is another major character in the book. He is a drug addict, actively using on and off for over twenty years. He’s haunted by an overdose death that he inadvertently caused when he was younger. Although he is sometimes a sympathetic character, Paul uses people without much empathy for their plights.
Olivia is an artist, and she is struggling to make ends meet. When she was much younger, she once painted Alkaitis’s brother–also an artist–shortly before he died of a drug overdose. She now wishes she had been kinder to him, and she also ends up as one of Alkaitis’s Ponzi scheme victims.
I could discuss the plot of this novel in detail, but it wouldn’t do justice to what made the book really interesting. I like how St. John Mandel writes. When Vincent and Jonathan Alkaitis first meet, we see it through the eyes of some disinterested spectators with other things on their mind. So, we are as surprised as they are when they suddenly disappear together. In addition, the characters are very complex. Alkaitis is certainly the villain of the piece, but every character has to deal with some sort of moral dilemma. Alkaitis’s co-workers probably wouldn’t have done anything illegal until they faced the choice of making a lot of money or losing their job. Leon also betrays his own principles when given enough incentive.
I’m glad I read this one. Recommended.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.