Review of the Glass Hotel

The marketing bumph for this novel is honest and factual and captures the very bare plot outline. In that, it does this novel a severe disservice. The Glass Hotel is experiential. As she did her previous novel Station Eleven, St. John Mandel captures the reader’s consciousness. She draws you into a deep, rich and thoughtful journey. It is almost ethereal. There’s an extra layer of reflection and realisation in which the reader is submerged and privileged. You are not a participant in the ordinary sense, but at the same time, one feels like much more than a mere observer.

The author has a unique ability to engage with and bring you into intimate contact with her characters. You get to know them not simply well, but in a way that creates this special experience. St John Mandel teases out facets, at the precise moment that she should, weaving a tapestry of intentions, flaws, negotiated agreements and understanding that paints very human and absolutely believable characters. This novel, like Station Eleven, is about connections. However, in The Glass Hotel, the connections are far more fluid and far more revealing of character in themselves. There’s a slightly slow and possibly confusing start, but you realise her intention afterwards – and it is elegant.

Frequently you wonder who the main protagonist might be, and this makes for a playful engagement in its own right. She shifts narrative repeatedly and in doing so, creates a very full and holistic tale that ultimately exposes a fascinating liminal space. There are a few clues in the previously mentioned standard plot summary and its themes. Still, I wouldn’t want to highlight them too much as I think there is a very personal engagement and experience in allowing them to spin out as you read.

There are a number of thematic observances and a very deliberate attempt at constant foreshadowing. Intriguingly she makes the foreshadowing quite deliberate. This starts right at the beginning of the book, where we are presented with the end. Of course this makes it circular in narrative, and although the foreshadowing is obvious throughout, it doesn’t detract. Instead, the author uses it as a deliberate mechanism to progress the story and tease the reader.

One of the predominant themes is the nature of who we create our own worldly consciousness. This is famously referred to in Steve Job’s reality distortion field. In this novel we meet a series of characters who take distinct methods to imagine their own world and set its boundaries where they choose. Johnathan has a complete imaginary world during his time in prison. Vincent explains her life as a courtesan as a contract which has its costs and benefits, but a world that she negotiates and controls. The characters are all survivors who engage with the world on their own terms.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My own perspective of it changed on several occasions throughout. These were not necessarily through plot twists as much as through thought triggers that establish a dialogue with the reader that I suspect will be both personal and subjective.
This a far more complex tale than Station Eleven. The author clearly challenged herself to tie together a few extra threads. She is demonstrably quite able to rise to this challenge in so doing creates a stunning reminder of just how small our world truly is.

Treat yourself.

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