Her previous novel, Station Eleven, was a big hit critically and commerically so this is keenly awaited. Unlike Station Eleven it's not dystopian or post-apocalyptic but does revolve around an enormous, life-changing event; the collapse of a massive Ponzi scheme in New York in 2008 . This shattering event links the lives of a disparate cast of characters and Mandel's gorgeous prose moves back and forth in time, tracing their stories pre and post crash. The pace is slow, almost dream-like, but this is ambitious, imaginative and highly recommended.
With its shattered narrative, the joys of The Glass Hotel are participatory: piecing together the connections and intersections of Mandel’s human cartography, a treasure map ripped to pieces. But it is as a spectral sequel to Station Eleven that The Glass Hotel stumbles into poignance, as pre-pandemic fiction. All contemporary novels are now pre-pandemic novels – Covid-19 has scored a line across our culture – but what Mandel captures is the last blissful gasp of complacency, a knowing portrait of the end of unknowing. It’s the world we inhabited mere weeks ago, and it still feels so tantalisingly close; our ache for it still too raw to be described as nostalgia. “Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilisation collapses ... Just so that something will happen?” a friend asks Vincent. Oh, for the freedom of that kind of reckless yearning.
No one comes through unscathed and the comeuppances are unfairly and unevenly handed out. Everyone seems to be trying to escape, on the run, but without finding refuge or solace. Eventually, the fractured memories and narratives come together through the conceit of all these lives flashing before the eyes of someone drowning. It’s chilling stuff. But the writer is teasing us too — one whodunnit is solved, another is revealed as no crime at all.
While mystery hangs over how Jonathan’s exposure affects his unlikely late-life companion, the novel’s developments rarely feel as earth-shattering as they’re plainly meant to be — not least the story behind some ominous graffiti.
Fans of Mandel’s hit pandemic thriller Station Eleven may find it all rather a fussy mess.