Hello everybody – hope you are all keeping safe. I am lucky enough to be exclusively working from home and as I do so, I am trying to create a mental health routine of comfort reading, writing, going for (safe) walks and TV watching. Since I have read over 30 books so far this year, I will start posting about my recommended Social Distancing Reads more frequently as a way to catch up and keep up.
I was a latecomer to Emily St. John Mandel’s famous post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven, having read it years after it was published. I was charmed by its version of the apocalypse and it’s multi-layered, time-hoping, non-linear narrative.
The Glass Hotel is the author’s first novel since Station Eleven and I struggled with it a great deal.
It centres the very real financial crisis of 2008 and a very specific Ponzi Scheme (based on real life) that destroyed the lives of multiple people. And just like Station Eleven, this novel is presented in a non-linear narrative leading to 2008 then following the ripples in time from that year, following multiple characters. It is, in a nutshell: a study of responsibly and accountably and about what exactly people would do for money and privilege. There is a small element of speculative fiction here as ghosts appear from time to time, but it doesn’t overwhelm the narrative. In terms of characters, a few of them are:
Vincent and her brother Paul – estranged half-siblings, she a bartender at the Glass Hotel, Paul a recovering drug addict. There is also Jonathan, a millionaire hedge fund trader who takes Vincent as his lover (and fake-wife) and Leon, a shipping executive. These are just a handful of the characters the book follows.
To me, the book lacks not only more interesting anchor characters but also a greater, wider view of the crisis. For a book with so many characters purporting to look at victims of the 2008 financial crisis, it does so in a very diminished, restricted capacity. The victims (and at points, I’d argue, even the perpetrators), we are asked to identify with are vastly white, wealthy, male – it also doesn’t help that one of the anchor characters is the author of Ponzi Scheme himself, Jonathan who at a later stage when he is in jail paying for his crimes, the narrative expected me to sympathise with his downfall…
There is something oddly dissonant about it all.
Especially when considering how the financial crisis of 2008 was a worldwide, structural phenomenon that hit the poor the hardest. There was also less time spent on the very few female viewpoint narratives in comparison to the male ones. So yeah, overall, very disappointing.
Do I recommend it? Maybe for fans of the author and of the type of narrative similar to Station Eleven.