Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel is a ghost story, but not in the ways you might expect. Our protagonist Vincent has lived many lives: as a wounded young girl, a trophy wife, a woman lost at sea, a ghost. She lives them in fragments told in 5-minute video clips and in the observations of those around her, always one step removed. Her faux husband, the charismatic and wealthy Jonathan Alkaitis, has his share of lives as well—from the splendor of the country of money, to the counterlife he imagines for himself from the confines of prison after his decades-long ponzi scheme collapses. They flicker in and out of each other’s lives—out of Vincent’s brother Paul’s life, out of Jonathan’s friend Olivia’s, out of countless outraged investors’—utterly unknowable.
Mandel’s last award-winning novel Station Eleven is making the rounds again due to its striking relevance to our current epidemic. It might not be the right moment to revisit a novel about viral apocalypse, but Mandel’s piercing eye for precarity and possibility is still a welcome one. The Glass Hotel is just as timely as its predecessor, with its flickering images of financial collapse, the opioid epidemic, and the genuinely different spheres of existence that different classes inhabit. A novel of disaster, guilt, and ephemeral human connection, it is a ghost story for a post-2008 world.