The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel

glass house

Royal Botanical Gardens, image by Kew.org

I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading A LOT. One of the best things I’ve read in the past few months is The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.

The story begins in a glass hotel, a fantastical building on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island, somewhere between the forest and the sea. To reach the hotel, one must take a boat to the island. Vincent, a young woman who was raised just across the water, has come back home to work as a bartender in the hotel and found a position for her half-brother Paul as the night shift custodian. Late one night, when the owner of the hotel is expected, Vincent looks up and sees an image scrawled across the outside surface of the lobby wall, the glass etched with an acid pen. “Why don’t you eat broken glass?”

But I have not begun at the beginning. Here is how the novel begins.

December 2018

1

Begin at the end: plummeting down the side of the ship in the storm’s wild darkness, breath gone with the shock of falling, my camera flying away through the rain—

2

Sweep me up. Words scrawled on a window when I was thirteen years old. I stepped back and let the marker drop from my hand and still I remember the exuberance of that moment, that feeling in my chest like light glinting on crushed glass—

 

3

Have I risen to the surface? The cold is annihilating, the cold is all there is—

4

A strange memory: standing by the shore at Caiette when I was thirteen years old, my brand-new video camera cool and strange in my hands, filming the waves in five-minute intervals, and as I’m filming I hear my own voice whispering, “I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home,” although where is home if not there?

5

Where am I? Neither in nor out of the ocean, I can’t feel the cold anymore or actually anything, I am aware of a border but I can’t tell which side I’m on, and it seems I can move between memories like walking from one room to the next—

 

6

“Welcome aboard,” the third mate said the first time I ever boarded the Neptune Cumberland. When I looked at him something struck me, and I thought, You—

 

7

I am out of time—

8

I want to see my brother. I can hear him talking to me, and my memories of him are agitating. I concentrate very hard and abruptly I’m standing on a narrow street, in the dark, in the rain, in a foreign city. A man is slumped in a doorway just across from me, and I haven’t seen my brother in a decade but I know that it’s him. Paul looks up and there’s time to notice that he looks terrible, gaunt and undone, he sees me but then the street blinks out—

Within those mysterious eight paragraphs lies the beginning of the novel and the end. I felt as if, throughout, I were reading a mirage.

broken glassOn the night of the hotel message, the hotel owner Jonathan Alkaitis arrives. He is a money manager, a multimillionaire — perhaps billionaire — the founder and head of an Wall Street investment firm that manages accounts. He enlists another investor, a guest of the hotel, and proposes to Vincent that she accompany him when he departs.

Flashing between the past and the present, St. John Mandel takes the crushed glass of the message and fragments her story accordingly.  There are shades of Bernie Madoff, Y2K, grunge music, art theory. Paul attends a concert. Vincent runs away from home. Vincent’s mother disappears. Alkaitis establishes a Ponzi scheme. Vincent films snippets in precisely five minute segments. Paul sets the films to a score. Vincent attends Paul’s concert. Alkaitis introduces Vincent to the “kingdom of money”.

MandelEmily St. John Mandel is the author of Station Eleven, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner award. (See a review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/flu-season-station-eleven-by-emily-st-john-mandel/).

This, her fifth novel, is haunting. Maureen Corrigan, speaking on NPR’s Fresh Air, said, “it’s ‘straight’ literary fiction, gorgeous and haunting, about the porous boundaries between past and present, the rich and the poor, and the realms of the living and the dead…” It is about messages, tangible words and the looks that pass between us. It’s about art and ownership and loss and the conjoining of the three and the effect each has on us, together and apart.

The writing is so beautiful, I really hesitate to say much more. There is so much to consume here, to digest. I read it once and then again, just to touch the words and worlds once more. In the end, the fragments of story return to the whole and the shattered glass is once more smooth. So smooth one wonders if it ever really broke at all.

Glass Hotel

MENU

Vincent’s talent at mixing cocktails is mentioned frequently. In one scene, three specific cocktails are mentioned: Midnight in Saigon, Cosmopolitan, and a Sunday Morning served with bar snacks of pretzels and salted nuts.

I couldn’t find any recipes for a Midnight in Saigon or a Sunday Morning, but here’s Liquor.com’s “best” cosmo:

  • 1 1/2 oz Citrus vodka
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz Fresh lime juice
  • 1 dash Cranberry juice
  • Garnish: Lime wheel
  • Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake.

  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

  • Garnish with a lime wheel.

     

There’s lots of wine. Lots of coffee. Vincent goes out for breakfast every day. The company’s Christmas party has a chocolate fondue station.

Apparently, Vancouver itself offers great fresh seafood and claims to have invented the California roll. The Canadian specialty poutine is popular but the most intriguing food I’ve found is candied salmon and I would give that a try for my book club.

This recipe for Candied Salmon is from barbecuebible.com, for it you will need a smoker:

  • 1 piece (1½ pounds) fresh skinless salmon fillet (preferably a center cut)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar or maple sugar
  • ¼ cup coarse salt (sea or kosher)
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup (preferably dark amber or Grade B)
  • 1 quart water
  • Vegetable oil, for oiling the rack

Step 1: Rinse the salmon under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Run your fingers over the flesh side of the fillet, feeling for the sharp ends of pin bones. Pull out any you find with kitchen tweezers.

 

Step 2: Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon widthwise into strips 1 inch wide and 4 to 5 inches long. Transfer the fish to a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and place the bag in an aluminum foil pan or baking dish to contain any leaks.

 

Step 3: Combine the brown sugar, salt, and ½ cup of the maple syrup in a bowl. Add the water and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour this over the salmon and seal the bag. Cure in the refrigerator for 8 hours, turning the bag over several times to redistribute the brine.

Step 4: Drain the salmon in a colander, discarding the brine, and rinse the salmon well under cold running water. Blot dry with paper towels. Arrange the salmon flesh side up on an oiled wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and let air-dry in the refrigerator until tacky, 2 hours.

Step 5: Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225° to 250°F. Add the wood as directed by the manufacturer.

Step 6: Place the salmon on its rack in the smoker and smoke until the outside is bronzed with smoke and the salmon feels firm, 30 to 60 minutes. Start brushing the salmon with the remaining ¼ cup of maple syrup after 15 minutes, and brush several times until it’s cooked (about 140°F on an instant-read thermometer). Transfer the salmon candy on its rack to a rimmed baking sheet to cool and brush one final time with maple syrup before serving. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Step 7: In the unlikely event you have leftovers, store the salmon candy in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator; it will keep for at least 3 days.

MUSIC

Paul, Vincent’s brother, claims to be a composer. He is introduced wearing a Radiohead t-shirt. If you like that angle, you can stream a Radiohead Youtube channel all night.

Or put together a playlist:

Broken Glass, Rachel Platten  .https://youtu.be/b2390GAm4d0

Heart of Glass, Blondie

Walking on Broken Glass, Annie Lennox

Raise Your Glass, Pink  https://youtu.be/XjVNlG5cZyQ

Shattered Glass, Brad Paisley

Glass House, Ani DeFranco

Life in A Glasshouse, Radiohead

Glass of Water, Coldplay

MOVIE

I can totally see Alex Baldwin at Jonathan Alkaitis.

Also, Aaron Paul as Paul is an easy fit.

Although there are many, many other characters, Vincent is the primary character and the hardest for me to capture. She’s described as entering an office party and making every other spouse automatically less attractive. Alkaitis tells her she makes everything look effortless. She swims nightly and runs each money, so she’s fit. She’s described as having long, dark hair that she wears loose around her shoulders.

Nina Dobrev is a Canadian actress, 31 years old with long dark hair. Anybody think Meghan Markle would be interested?

Meghan

Happy Reading!

 

 

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