Thursday 10 December 2020

#CBR12 Book 80: "The Glass Hotel" by Emily St. John Mandel

Page count: 302 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Official book description:
Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it's the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent's half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: "Why don't you swallow broken glass." Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune Logistics, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of the Neptune Cumberland. Weaving together the lives of these characters, 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 the ghosts of our pasts.

Expectations are funny things. I didn't think I'd like Station Eleven, back when we first read it for Cannonball Book Club back in 2015 and was surprised to discover that I absolutely loved it. That feeling was only strengthened and reinforced when I re-read it earlier this year (so strange to read it during an actual global pandemic) for our Spring book club. So while the description of The Glass Hotel made it generally seem like very much not my sort of thing, I was willing to give the book and the author my benefit of the doubt, because I really hadn't thought that a science fiction book about a global pandemic taking out most of the world's population, and the aftermath of that event would have been a book I'd end up loving and recommending to people for years either. 

Sadly, however, with The Glass Hotel, my fears were correct, and the book didn't really do much for me. It doesn't help that the older I get and the more of the world's ugly and greedy underbelly I see, the more I start agreeing with my husband's views of "eat the rich", or more accurately, "round up all the rich and string them from lampposts". So a book where one of the central plot points involved a ponzi scheme where people got rich by exploiting others did not sit well with me, and unlike in Station Eleven, I failed to really connect with or care about any of the characters much. The author's writing sill and excellent way with words kept me turning pages to see what would happen, but throughout the whole novel, there seemed to be a deliberate distance created between the characters and the reader, which didn't exactly help.

One of the things I did really like about the book were the hints that this was set in an alternate universe/timeline to Station Eleven, where the Georgia flu didn't become the thing that killed off nearly the entire population. Some of the characters from the previous novels appear in cameos here, alive and well because they never caught the deadly disease. 

I've seen this book on a number of "Best of 2020" lists, so I'm clearly not in a majority by thinking that the book was ok but not much more. I don't regret the time I spent reading it, and book club discussions are always better the more people have read and have opinions about the book, but I'm not going to be recommending this to people in the same way as I did the author's previous novel. 

Judging a book by its cover: I'm a big fan of the colours purple and teal, so it's nice that those are prominent on the cover. The whole cover image has a slightly surreal, dreamlike quality to it, with a small, forested island seemingly floating in a colourful void. Some of the book's important scenes take place in a remote hotel on a small island, and I guess the image evokes the sort of remoteness and loneliness that a lot of the book's characters grapple with. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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