Title: The Glass Hotel

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Summary: Shipping executive Leon Prevant is there the night Vincent meets Jonathan Alkaitis. But thirteen years later, Jonathan is in jail for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme that evaporated all of Leon’s savings, and Vincent has mysteriously disappeared from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters over decades, 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 beauty, and moral compromise.

Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

I’m not sure what I expected from The Glass Hotel… but I didn’t end up finding it. Perhaps that’s due to how much I loved Station Eleven to the point where anything I’ve read since is in silent competition. Or maybe it’s that I didn’t really know or care what the plot was because it’s an Emily St. John Mandel novel so absolutely I was going to read it. So it’s not very fair of me to judge the two against one another—but I can’t help it, so I did. And The Glass Hotel came up short.

Did I feel the same pull while reading? This slight tug that only Station Eleven has been able to exert? Yes, of course. I slipped into Mandel’s prose like warm bath water and luxuriated in the syntax and the flow and the precise grammatical and structural choices. But I wasn’t wowed by the story in the same way. I went looking for a single thread that would pull the book together and instead found a ball of tangled string. A woman does disappear from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme does implode in New York City… but these are just anchor points around which Mandel weaves her characters.

The Glass Hotel is, at its core, a ghost story—a story about the figurative ghosts of our past haunting our present, how the choices we make continuously inform who we are and who we become. But it’s also a literal ghost story—a story of the people and places that stay with us, that we must accept or else be consumed by them.

And maybe I’m just not in the mood for a ghost story right now; the future seems bleak enough.

P.S. If you’ve read The Glass Hotel, this short interview is worth a read.

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