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Likely Stories : The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Every-once-in-a-while I come across a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.  I skimmed some titles, but nothing caught my attention.  When her fifth novel appeared—The Glass Hotel—the dust jacket intrigued me.  She was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.


This mysterious story began on the first few pages with two characters—A woman named Vincent and her brother, Paul.  Emily wrote, “At the end of 1999, Paul was studying finance at the University of Toronto, which should have felt like triumph, but everything was wrong.  When he was younger he’d assumed he’d major in musical composition, but he sold his keyboard during a bad period a couple of years back and his mother was unwilling to entertain the idea of an impractical degree, for which after several expensive rounds of rehab he couldn’t really blame her, so he enrolled in finance classes on the theory that this represented a practical and impressively adultlike forward direction—Look at me, learning about markets and the movements of money!—but the one flaw in this brilliant plan was that he found the topic fatally uninteresting.  The century was ending, and he had some complaints” (5).  At the end of his first semester, Paul was failing.  This young man reminds me of Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye fame.

Vincent enters the story.  Mandel writes, “[Vincent] was in the pool when she first met Jonathan’s daughter, Claire.  It was a cool evening in April, steam rising from the water.  She’d known Claire was coming over that evening, but she hadn’t expected to surface and find a woman in a suit staring at her through the steam like a [dam] apparition, standing perfectly still with her hands clasped behind her back. 

Vincent gasped aloud, which in retrospect, wasn’t endearing.  Claire, who had obviously just come from the office, was a very corporate-looking woman in her late twenties. // ‘You must be Vincent.’ // ‘You must be Claire.’ // Claire didn’t dignify this with a response.  Vincent was wearing a fairly modest one-piece swimsuit, but she felt extremely naked as she toweled off. // ‘Vincent’s an unusual name for a girl,’ Claire said with a slight emphasis on girl that struck Vincent as uncalled-for.  ‘I’m not that young, Vincent wanted to tell her, because at twenty-four she didn’t feel young at all, but Claire was possibly dangerous and Vincent hopped for peace, so she answered in the mildest tone possible. // ‘My parents named me after a poet.  Edna St. Vincent Millay.’ // Claire’s gaze flickered to the ring on Vincent’s finger.  ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we can’t choose our parents, I suppose.  What kind of work do they do?” (59-60). It begins with some leisurely events, but the story will quickly draw the reader in because The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is full of suspense and intrigue.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.