Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

9781509882816“There is exquisite lightness in waking each morning with the knowledge that the worst has already happened.”

Emily St. John Mandel’s highly-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, spanning more than thirty years, and involving a disparate cast of characters impacted by the catastrophic collapse of a financier’s Ponzi scheme.

It opens in December 2018, with Vincent Smith falling overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, into the annihilating cold of the water below. The narrative then unsnarls backwards, disclosing how the book’s key players are linked by the Hotel Caiette, a five-star architectural triumph on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island — owned by Jonathan Alkaitis, whose fraudulent investment scheme will derail so many lives — and the night a menacing message was scrawled on its primary window: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” 

Exploring ghosts, guilt, heartache and corruption, The Glass Hotel is a virtuoso display of overlapping storylines, that bounce backwards and forwards in time, and into a surreal “counterlife,” interweaved via character, theme, and plot. This is genius storytelling by one of my favourite writers.

ISBN: 9781509882816
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 31/03/2020
Imprint: Picador
Pages: 256
Price: $29.99

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven coverSTATION ELEVEN is an utterly compelling novel about a dystopian future in which 99% of mankind has expired from a flu pandemic. Rather than focusing on the minutiae of humanity’s collapse – although it’s touched on throughout the text – or exploiting the set-up to recount a tale about mankind’s attempted uprising or resurgence, Emily St. John Mandel turns the spotlight on a core cast of five characters, shifting back and forth, from before the crisis to afterwards, whose sole objective is survival, and retaining mankind’s artistic and cultural achievements. Does Shakespeare matter in a decimated world? What about Beethoven? It’s a fascinating conundrum, deftly touched upon: is the cost of survival worth forsaking our greatest achievements?

In this dystopian world, a hodgepodge of talented survivors travel together as the Traveling Symphony, performing in various settlements, and pillaging vacated homes and dilapidated buildings from the old world for costumes, props, and other useful objects. Early on in STATION ELEVEN, the Traveling Symphony run into a man known as the Prophet, who has warped perceptions of the world, and the crisis that has unfolded. From here, the narrative splits in various directions, delving into the past and present, and exposing the connective tissue between protagonists. One man unites them all: a famous actor named Arthur Leander, whose passing in the opening pages sets the novel’s course.

There’s a captivating lyricism to the Emily St. John Mandel’s prose. It’s the kind of novel you can sink hours into without realizing. While there are fleeting moments of action and violence, STATION ELEVEN is far more focused on its characters, and their development from ‘before’ to ‘after.’ It’s a refreshing take, an enthralling snapshot into a post-apocalyptic mankind. Its glacial pace might not be to everyone’s taste, but STATION ELEVEN is the kind of novel that rewards readers who undertake its journey.