Book Review: ‘The Glass Hotel’ Is More A Collection Of Connected People Than A Straightforward Book

Review by Adrina Palmer

From the award-winning author of ‘Station Eleven,’ an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events-a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.

First off, Emily St. John Mandel wields a pen with powerful precision, and in an unhurried manner, other writers envy, myself included. Second, I haven’t had the chance to read her highly-rated novel ‘Station Eleven’ but plan to as it is a dystopian novel. The problem is, her new book, ‘The Glass Hotel,’ moves around too much without enough visuals of the multitude of characters to gain traction. Based on the writing alone, the book offers merit, it’s the story I had trouble with, or maybe the author, like myself, tends toward the hyperactive side and couldn’t stay in one section long enough to provide proper details.

Usually, I would provide the plot at this junction, starting with an introduction of the main character, but there isn’t a central protagonist, it’s three people who get a little more screen time, so to speak. Paul starts out the book then disappears until the tail end, Vincent and Jonathan fill in the middle but without obvious resolution. The story starts in the beginning but not at the logical beginning of the story and instead goes forward and backward, shifting between characters like someone who doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift yet.

If a book cannot draw me in within the first fifty pages, I usually walk away, and this story took 73 pages before it settled on Vincent – a female bartender who becomes a trophy wife – and stayed in one place long enough to find some variation of a cohesive plot. Otherwise, the story tried hard to give relevant details to a full conclusion without ever introducing what needed resolution besides hints at a Ponzi scheme that didn’t really settle into actual details until the last hundred pages. Moreover, a key character never gained enough spotlight to drive the ending to a satisfying conclusion. If, in all of the different costume changes of characters, the author had managed to land on this particular character for a little while longer, the story may have improved dramatically and elevated the book’s status.

As a whole, the book spends the most time gravitating around Vincent and her troubled past and understanding her mindset of choosing a man twice her age for his bank account and the new life his wealth offers, and yet, it’s all a Ponzi scheme. The story moves from the 1990s through 2029, picking through time like a bored teenager scrolling through Netflix, giving the effect of short stories instead of one novel. Maybe this was the point to show how making massive life changes won’t pay off if you don’t choose love.

What I needed to enjoy the book were visuals. Who knows what the characters looked like? The hotel itself and various locations came with enough detail to supply a backdrop, but the flock of people walked onto each page and backed out without distinguishing details to identify each person. Even Jonathan, the purported protagonist, kept getting enough name swaps to keep his face in the dark. The story lacked too much to find it compelling or drive me to keep reading. Had we stayed with any of the characters long enough to find a kindred soul, maybe the story would have worked, but finding solid ground in this murky plot proves challenging to find some reward for having made it to the last page.

My respect for the writing style commands two stars, but the follow-through steals the rest. What was described, as in each individual story, was well worth the individual read. Maybe all of the characters flowed inside Emily’s head, but she didn’t manage to translate them to the paper for those who never met the people. The pieces needed to come together in an explosion, and instead, we had to flip back through the pages looking for some minor character tragically turned into the catalyst adding to the disjointed circuitous plot, meaning we got a minor bang instead of a boom.

Available in Bookstores March 24th

James McDonald
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