The Glass Hotel

Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover

“A novel based on the Bernie Madoff scandal” doesn’t exactly seem like the most exciting book pitch for 2020, but I was definitely going to read this no matter what based on my enjoyment of Mandel’s previous novel, “Station Eleven.” Ultimately, I thought it worked really well. The plot hews closely to the real details of the Madoff scandal in most of the specific relevant parts, but it’s far from just a novelistic treatment in the style of, say, HBO’s “The Wizard of Lies” movie. In fact, the Madoff character isn’t even the main figure of the book. I think Mandel approached the Madoff scandal as less an intrinsically interesting story, and more as an opportunity to explore themes relating to trust, appropriation, money, and alternate futures/realities (including a couple of cool winks at the world of “Station Eleven” as a parallel reality to that of “The Glass Hotel”).

The book had a good amount of mystery in it for me–a few puzzles that were fun to try to figure out, without feeling like that was the point of the book. I did miss the imaginativeness of “Station Eleven” a bit, as this book is more constrained by happening in more or less our own world–not that I would have been into another book about a post-pandemic society right now anyway! And I did think that a couple of times, Mandel reached a little too far to draw connections between otherwise unrelated events in the plot, which makes the world feel a little smaller as opposed to expansive. At the same time, I liked some of the light parallelism she used between stories, particularly with different character’s encounters with phantoms.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars