In one word: Unexpected
Cannonball Read Bingo: Rep
I was a huuuuuge fan of Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” (I mean, weren’t we all?). It was truly perfection, a triumph in storytelling in my favorite genre of post-apocalyptic literature. And so, I was equal parts excited and nervous to read her new book. Would I be disappointed? I talked to a few people before I read it and they all echoed the same exact thing: this book is NOTHING like the other book, and it’s very unexpected. Whether that was a good or a bad thing was a bit of a toss-up, so I started this book cautiously optimistic.
I’m happy to report though it wasn’t as much of a slam dunk for me as Station Eleven, I found it to be just as well-written as I expected, and just as unexpected as everyone said. I finished it about two weeks ago and I still find myself thinking about it, as it does not wrap things up neatly and give you all the answers. Instead, it takes you on a wandering journey through one character’s life, through many seemingly unconnected vignettes. It’s a literary Inception; the reader is left wondering what it all means.
This book begins at the end, wherein Vincent (a female character, which kept throwing me off at the beginning) is falling off a boat, presumably to her demise. But who is she, and how did she get there? The book is as non-linear as it comes, jumping back and forth effortlessly from various spots in time between 1958 to 2029. There’s a spectacular hotel on a small Canadian island (the titular glass hotel), dysfunctional family dynamics, and a Ponzi scheme. It’s a book about loneliness but it’s also about finding the things that tether us to others. It’s about addiction and mental health and being a stranger in a strange land.
It’s confusing and also mesmerizing and it makes me want to talk to someone about it. For me, it’s a four rather than a five because it took me a while to get into. I read the first twenty-ish pages and tried to come back to it a few days later and had to start over from the beginning, so my advice is to commit to reading a larger chunk at the beginning to get into the unusual rhythm of it. But overall, Mandel is a gifted writer and storyteller and I look forward to the story she chooses to tell next.