There’s something in it, he decides later, standing in line for dinner. It’s possible to know you’re a criminal, a liar, a man of weak moral character, and yet not know it, in the sense of feeling that your punishment is somehow undeserved, that despite the cold facts you’re deserving of warmth and some kind of special treatment.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel was one of the books I was most-looking forward to reading this year because I loved the author’s previous novel, Station Eleven.
The Glass Hotel is good. Not as good as Station Eleven. But good.
What is it about?
On the surface, The Glass Hotel is about (more or less) the unraveling of a Ponzi scheme. But it’s really about being haunted.
What is this book like?
The Glass Hotel bounces around through decades of time, from the perspectives of multiple characters. If you would like a comparison, stylistically it is similar to the author’s previous Station Eleven. If you haven’t read that, A Visit From the Goon Squad has sort of the same format.
What’s awesome about this book?
The general “gimmick” of the author (at least in her most recent two books) is that she takes genre fiction and uses its tropes and themes as metaphor/allegory/inspiration for a story that has a more traditional literary subject and themes. And then she blends the genre stuff with the literary stuff. It’s pretty neat.
What do I mean by that? Here’s an example/explanation (highlight to read the sort-of spoiler):
(SPOILER-WARNING) In The Glass Hotel, there are (maybe) ghosts. So it’s a ghost story! But the book doesn’t really focus on ghosts. Instead, it explores its characters’ regrets, guilt, sorrows…the things that haunt them. Get it? (END OF SPOILER TERRITORY)
It’s an easy book to read. The author writes with a kind of flowing prose, pretty and sophisticated, but not overly complicated.
And the book contains interesting insights about the bonds of family, the nature of wealth, and the ease of corruption.
What sucks about this book?
I really appreciated this book.
And I think that’s basically the root of my biggest negative of the book: I appreciated it, on an intellectual level. I did not engage with it emotionally. I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters (except maybe Vincent, a little bit, but even she was hard to get a handle on). I downright disliked most of them. I kept picking at the themes and motifs of the book, wrestling with the thesis of the work, but I never got seriously emotionally invested. I didn’t really care what happened to the characters.
The story gets a little meandering at times, a little unfocused, a little frayed. It kind of felt like the book could have used one more round of edits to make it a little tighter. Or perhaps the book had been edited from a much larger work and some of its edges hadn’t been sanded down. Whatever actually happened, the book could use just a little more work.
The Glass Hotel feels a little derivative of Station Eleven, but that feeling could be an artifact of the author’s style.
These criticisms might seem harsh for a book I awarded 5 stars.* As I said in my opening, I don’t think it is as good as Station Eleven, so the purpose of this section is ultimately explaining why I feel that way.
It’s a book with intelligent insights, beautifully written, in a unique genre-style. It follows the same sort of format as Station Eleven – and Station Eleven did it better – but The Glass Hotel is nevertheless worth a read.
TLDR: Read this book if you:
- read Station Eleven and liked it
- like your books to have themes and recurring motifs
- like flawed characters
TLDR: Avoid this book if:
- you want an action-packed plot
- likable characters are important to you
- you’re in the mood for light-hearted or comedic material
Read Station Eleven.
My Rating: 5 Stars*
*Really, it’s more of a 4.5, but (1) I like to keep my ratings consistent throughout amazon, goodreads, and this page and (2) I round up.
Also, as a side note, I really wanted to post on a more consistent schedule this year. I had been on a good twice-a-month, about every-other-week pace, but I felt pretty *off* the last few weeks. I don’t know if it’s just the stress from the pandemic or some extra family errands I’ve had to take on has absorbed more of my time, but I obviously got behind on my posting schedule. I’m going to try to get back on track!