I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian love ballad STATION ELEVEN and was looking forward to getting my hands her newest, THE GLASS HOTEL. I was not disappointed.
Mandel has a gift for writing intersecting narratives that seamlessly move back and forth through time and between characters. Despite the non-traditional structure of the storytelling, there is nothing discordant or choppy in how the novel unfolds.
The main story focuses on Vincent (named after the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay), a young and unsettled but apparently very beautiful and sexy woman who becomes the “trophy companion” to a Bernie Madoff-modeled financier, Johnathan Alkaitis.
Vincent rises from bartender to the “world of money” virtually overnight. She fulfills her role as a lover to an old guy and a Fifth Avenue shopper in a somewhat detached, workmanlike manner, although Alkaitis seems satisfied with the relationship.
There were sections of the novel called The Office Chorus that focused on Alkaitis’ complicit team of Ponzi-schemers. They served as sort of a Greek Chorus to the tragedy.
There was also a touching and authentic-feeling thread centered on a shipping executive who was one of the bilked investors and resorted to living on an RV with his wife and traveling the other America. Scenes of Alkaitis in prison were sprinkled in. Also, a mostly dysfunctional relationship between Vincent and her brother, Paul, which was a more puzzling part of the novel.
It may seem like a lot going on, but Mandel handles the voice, pace, and structure beautifully. She’s a fantastic writer whose sentences flow, one to the other, and the next thing you know you haven’t looked at your phone for an hour.