The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel review – haunted visions of a global crisis

Financial meltdown looms in this elegant portrait of complacency, from the author of Station Eleven

Few readers will come to Emily St John Mandel’s fifth novel, The Glass Hotel, unaware of her fourth, 2014’s Station Eleven, which imagined a world ravaged by a hyper-lethal form of swine flu. That book was always going to cast a shadow over its successor – such is the curse of a career-defining blockbuster. But as we face Covid-19, the strange, masochistic allure of havoc-lit has catapulted Mandel’s post-pandemic tale of itinerant Shakespearean actors back into bestseller territory. How better to while away a stint in lockdown than by bending our waking terrors into the most comforting and redemptive of shapes – the narrative arc.

A handful of quietly placed clues suggest that The Glass Hotel exists in the same universe as Station Eleven, in a time before the outbreak. The “Georgia Flu” is lurking, but we will never learn if it is days, months, or a year away. Mandel has not penned a ticking-clock prequel; rather, her new novel is a portrait of everyday obliviousness, the machinery of late neoliberalism juddering along with characteristic inequity. This is a tale of Ponzi schemes, not pestilence.

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