Emily St. John Mandel captivated me in her dystopian novel, Station Eleven, published in 2014, about the destruction of civilization by a flu pandemic. Spooky prescient now laid against our real world crisis with Covid-19.
Her newest book, The Glass Hotel, again, deals with the tragic destruction of life. This time, it’s self-induced financial destruction at the hands of a charming flimflam artist. Many readers will be reminded of the infamous Bernie Madoff but the only thing in common with Bernie is both used a Ponzi scheme to destroy their victims.
I will admit I have struggled for some time to review this latest book. Counterculture, ghostly appearances, and Ponzi schemes are far outside my comfort zone to discuss with any validity. Yet in the end, I must say I enjoyed the book but find it hard to tell you why exactly….. Collectively, a multitude of characters spend time pondering questions. How did I find myself in this situation and not see it coming?
Mandel keeps the reader uneasy as each person’s story is revealed in three dimensional fragments flipping time lines around- before, during and after. As one reviewer put it – the author drops a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces on a desk and walks away with the box. I’d add, that there are two puzzles here and each piece has two sides. The reader is left to slowly make sense of each final picture; piece by piece.
We are spared the process of inducing victims to part with their investments or life savings. We generally meet the characters living the high life without a care in the world. As expected, the chain breaks and the lives of those suspended victims dissolve before their very eyes.
It wasn’t that she was about to lose everything, it was that she’d already lost everything and just didn’t know it yet.
In my opinion, the heart of the story lies with the ways people can delude themselves. The way they “can see but not see”. How many people have been led to trust their financial advisors and entrust everything in the world to essentially a stranger? Question. Could you survive losing everything in one split second? How would you survive and re-invent yourself? With grace and dignity? With loss of self-esteem? Or would you turn inwardly and retreat to a world you create for yourself. A alternate world where you relive your life with a different outcome. A world that insulates you from having to face the consequences of your actions.
Edelweiss and Knopf provided me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for my review and honest opinion.