The Glass Hotel wraps a family saga, financial crime and coming of age story all into one novel. Then it throws in a little magical realism for extra effect!
The novel begins at the end, with Vincent falling to her death from a ship. Ironically, Vincent’s mother had died years before while canoeing. Thus begins (or ends) the family saga! As a child, Vincent lived with her father in remote Caiette British Columbia. The only way to get to the town is on a boat. Although Caiette is remote, during Vincent’s childhood, a large hotel was being constructed on the island.
When she was 13, Vincent’s mother disappeared during a canoe trip and Vincent is at loose ends. She writes the words “Sweep me up” in acid paste on one of the school windows and her father, whose job requires extensive travel, decides to send her to live with her Aunt. Vincent has a half-brother, Paul, who lives with his mother in Toronto, but at the time of the graffiti incident is living with Vincent and her father. Paul has substance abuse problems and has gone through rehab a few times.
Fast forward a few years. Vincent leaves her Aunt’s house at the age of 17 and drops out of school. Paul is at the University of Toronto when there is an incident involving drugs and he flees the city and goes to find Vincent. He has not seen her for years. Vincent is living in a ramshackle apartment in a terrible neighborhood with her friend Melissa. Melissa was part of the graffiti incident four years earlier. Vincent is strikingly beautiful and although Paul is reaching out to her for help he is also resentful of her existence. Vincent is not quite sure what to make of Paul.
Paul and Vincent part ways and next come together six years later working at the Hotel Caiette. The Hotel is a spectacular structure, with lots of glass, and is intended as a getaway for the extremely wealthy. The hotel is described as “an improbable palace lit up against the darkness of the forest…The building would have been beautiful anywhere, but placed here, it was incongruous, and its incongruity played a part in the enchantment.” Vincent is the bartender, Melissa ferries people to and from the hotel and Paul is the night houseman. The family saga portion of the novel seems to be told as part of Paul’s therapy sessions many years later.
The Hotel is owned by Jonathan Alkaitis, a wealthy financier, who owns a financial advisory/ management business and a brokerage business. He periodically stays at the hotel and of course this is where he meets the beautiful Vincent. During one of his visits, someone has written “Why don’t you swallow broken glass?” in acid paste on the glass eastern wall of the Hotel. Obviously this is very disturbing. Ultimately, Paul is fired for the act. But why would he do this?
Alkaitis is widowed three years and is 34 years older than Vincent. They marry (or do they?) and she leaves the hotel for a life of luxury in NYC. But all is not as it seems. Begin the financial crime! Alkaitis is running a Ponzi scheme. During this part of the novel we meet a number of the people who have invested with him and whose lives are effectively ruined. We also meet the people who worked for him and whose lives are effectively ruined. Interestingly, this part of the story is told by an unidentified Alkaitis employee. Alkaitis goes to jail for the rest of his life and the line between reality and fantasy start to blur. He sees the ghosts of people who have died, including as a result of his financial crime, and he begins to devolve into what appears to be madness.
Vincent is something of a videographer and has been since childhood. She learns that her half-brother has a performance at a theater in New York (I forgot to mention that he is something of a composer), where she discovers that he has taken some of her video and is using it in his shows. She is incensed. After Alkaitis is sentenced Vincent tries to find a life and becomes a cook on the Neptune Cumberland. It is on this ship where she finds the love of her life and joy. This is the coming of age portion of the novel.
The novel moves back and forth through time and comes together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is a lot of fun to read and a great distraction during these turbulent times. You can reserve The Glass Hotel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.