The Glass Hotel

Author
Emily St. John Mandel
Year of publication
2020
When I read it
April 2020
What I thought

Really good

Choice Highlights

His headphones were dangling around his neck, so he put them on, hands shaking a little; pressed play on the CD in his Discman; and let the Brandenburg Concertos settle him. He only listened to Bach when he was desperate for order.

…but Dad was gearing himself up to say something, a gradual process that involved shifting around in his chair, some throat-clearing, lifting his tea halfway to his mouth and putting it down again, so Paul and Grandma broke off their staring contest and waited for him to speak. Grief had lent him a certain gravitas.

“I don’t disagree. But I think,” Walter said, with more confidence than he felt, “that this could only have been the work of a bored adolescent.” In truth, he was deeply shaken and was taking refuge in efficiency.

“How do you bring in guests and supplies?” Walter was having some difficulty grasping the appeal of the place. It was undeniably beautiful but geographically inconvenient, and he wasn’t sure why your average executive would want to vacation in a cellular dead zone.

It was getting on toward evening and the world was shifting to monochrome, the water pale and glassy under a darkening sky, shadows accumulating in the forest. He walked out to the end of the pier, luxuriating in the silence.

Walter found him to be an irritating and somewhat depressing presence.

Her relationship with the pool was adversarial.

They went out to the terrace, which had Italian pretensions.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Olivia said to Lucas, which in those days was one of her signature lines. (A revelation earned only in hindsight: beauty can have a corrosive effect on character. It is possible to coast for some years on no more than a few polished lines and a dazzling smile, and those years are formative.)

He was skinny and unpleasantly pale, a strictly indoor creature.

He was ridiculous in some ways, but beneath all that he was a serious person, she understood that, he was a serious person who worked very hard.

Olivia did not, in fact, particularly like Lucas’s new paintings. They were derivative of Edward Hopper and could only have been more obvious in theme if he’d maybe painted the word LONELINESS across them in red.

“What a fortunate thing,” Olivia said finally, “being good at everything.” She herself had only ever been good at one thing, and possibly not even that.

Vincent was lovely but not, Olivia had decided, a serious person. Since her late teens she had been mentally dividing people into categories: either you’re a serious person, she’d long ago decided, or you’re not.

“You okay?” Ned asked. “Not at all,” Vincent said. “You mind if I take five?”

“We were just talking about you,” Olivia said when Vincent returned to the deck with a fresh round that she’d mixed inside. “I hope you made up some interesting rumors, at least,” Vincent said.

She arrived early and lingered outside for a while as a cross-section of affluent Brooklyn assembled on the sidewalk in their uniforms: flat-heeled boots and complicated arrangements of scarves for the women, beards and unflatteringly tight jeans on the men. It was a pleasure to watch them meet one another and

“Please close the door,” Jonathan said. Vincent did as he asked, but he said nothing further, and no one in the room seemed quite able to look at her, so she took temporary refuge in a series of small tasks. She placed the Saks bag by the coat stand, took off her coat and hung it, removed her gloves and draped them over the Saks bag, and finally, having run out of things to do, sat in one of the visitors’ chairs, crossed her legs, and waited. They all sat there in silence. It was like being in a play where no one knew the next line.

One of our signature flaws as a species: we will risk almost anything to avoid looking stupid.

Simone had been in New York City for six months by now, and she thought that she was starting to understand how a person could become very tired here. She’d seen them on the subway, the tired people, the people who’d worked too long and too hard, caught up in the machine, eyes closed on the evening trains. Simone had always thought of them as citizens of a separate city, but the gap between their city and hers was beginning to close.

He’d thought the evening couldn’t possibly get any worse, but any given evening can always get worse.

“You’re still enjoying the city?” Mom always said the city in the way a preacher might say Gomorrah.

… the RV in the driveway had at first seemed malevolent, some kind of horrible joke, like their financial mistakes had taken on corporeal form and had parked there next to the house.

Marie seemed a little distant in the first few days, as they drove up out of Florida and into the South, but he knew that was just the way she dealt with stress—she evaded, she avoided, she removed herself—and by the end of the week she’d begun to come back to him.

“As in she’d literally stand there on deck filming the fucking ocean,” the steward said. “Pardon my language. Never saw anything like it in my life. I caught her doing it once, asked her what she was doing, but…” “But?” “She just kind of shrugged and kept doing it.” He was quiet for a moment, eyes on the floor. “I respected that, actually. She was doing a strange thing and she felt she didn’t owe me any explanation.”

… this was probably the last time in his life he was going to have a drink at a bar in Germany, but the flattening influence of the nearby airport meant that everyone was conversing in English.

“I was his last secretary before he went to prison.” “You weren’t.” “Oh my god,” Keisha says, looking at her boss in the way administrative assistants do when it’s just dawned on them that the boss was once an administrative assistant.

“Well, probably only from a word-derivation sense,” Keisha says with the hesitance of people who know no one else is nearly as interested in the topic as they are, and the conversation moves on, Simone forgets to ask what she means…

“Are you going to stay much longer, do you think?” “No.” He hadn’t exactly thought this through before he said it, but the answer rang true.

The waiter who lived in the next room had sex with a sous-chef every night, and Paul, who was extremely single, could hear every noise they made.

… after days of imagining this conversation he almost began to long for it. It turned out that never having that conversation with Vincent meant that he was somehow condemned to always have that conversation with Vincent.

Paul had the impression he often had in the United Kingdom, of just having been subtly insulted in an obscure way that would take too much energy to parse, and as always he couldn’t tell whether the insult was real or just a typically Canadian case of postcolonial insecurity.

“Keep in touch,” he said to Walter, and the men shook hands with the mutual understanding that they’d never speak again.