The Glass Hotel
By Emily St. John Mandel
Vincent grows up in the fictional village of Caiette, just across the water from Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. Her tiny town has no road and is accessible only by water taxi. Her unusual name (for a girl) was given to her by her mother, a big fan of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. The Pacific Ocean is an integral part of life in Caiette and looms large in Vincent’s mind, especially after her mother drowns.
Cut to Vincent’s life at age seventeen when her half-brother, Paul, shows up at her doorstep. Vincent lives in a dismal apartment with roommate Melissa on the downtown eastside. But Vincent shows herself to be self-sufficient and strong, determined to find her own way in life while Paul, perpetually down on his luck and addicted to heroin, can’t even hold down a job.
We then meet a slightly older Vincent who has taken a job at the Hotel Caiette. This luxury inn has been established alongside her old stomping grounds, attracting rich tourists looking for a forest-and-ocean retreat while never really having to leave the glass-walled interior. It’s here that she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, and her life takes another distinct turn.
Vincent soon becomes Alkaitis’s “wife”, or plays the role of his wife in a luxurious “fairy tale” life based in New York. Alkaitis is an investment banker with an eclectic group of investors. Life at the peak of affluence is explored in detail, along with the aftermath. When disaster strikes during the 2008 financial downturn, the dire consequences of Alkaitis’s hubris impact many of those intimately involved with him.
But Vincent, as always, quickly manages to redefine her life and finds herself returning to the ocean.
Vincent is a constant throughout this engrossing story, but Emily St. John Mandel delves deeply into many other lives. Jonathan Alkaitis, his staff and investors, Paul and even some of the staff at the Hotel Caiette make up the cast of characters. From the steel and glass opulence of New York to the grey-green beauty of a B.C. rainforest that skirts the ocean, Mandel’s depictions are deeply believable and moving.
Like her previous novel, Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel is well worth reading.