Just as her breakout bestseller Station Eleven revolved around one character, The Glass Hotel ultimately spins around a single person: Jonathan Alkaitis, a financier at his prime in the early aughts, only to be taken down by the FBI for operating a Ponzi scheme a few years later. Other characters enjoy fully fleshed-out stories, but each has a connection to Alkaitis, no matter how tenuous.
Although he’s low-key about it, Alkaitis owns substantial acreage in British Columbia, which he rents to the owners of a luxury wilderness hotel. “Our guests in Caiette want to come to the wilderness, but they don’t want to be in the wilderness,” general manager Raphael tells Walter during his interview to become night manager. “They just want to look at it, ideally through the window of a luxury hotel.” He’s applied for the job after splitting from his girlfriend of 12 years, and camping out in a majestic hotel in the remote Canadian forest seems perfect — so perfect, in fact, that he decides to stay at the Hotel Caiette forever. The lodge has spotty internet, but an attentive staff and a well-stocked bar attended by a witty night bartender, Vincent Smith, a young woman savvy beyond her years, who responds positively to the widowed Alkaitis’ advances. She soon leaves the hotel under the excuse of marrying him, although they never make their union legal, and she’s compelled to testify against him when everything falls apart.
Mandel crosses universes to feature a character from Station Eleven: Miranda, the shipping company administrative assistant who married a movie star, then returned to the company in an executive position after the divorce. She gives a consulting job to her former boss, Leon Prevant — also from Station — when she learns he and his wife are victims of Alkaitis’ financial misdeeds. Although there are similarities between the stories — the ghost fleet off the Malaysian coast, her sketching — the Georgia Flu hasn’t devastated this world: greed and corruption felled this universe.
Emily St. John Mandel has written another engrossing novel with characters so twisted and intertwined that, when the story ends, there are still entanglements to unwind. Readers who participate will be amply rewarded.