Read an excerpt from Giller Prize finalist The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is a finalist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The Glass Hotel is a novel by Emily St. John Mandel. (HarperCollins, Sarah Shatz)

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is on the shortlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The $100,000 prize is the biggest prize in Canadian literature. The winner will be announced on Monday, Nov. 9. 

The Glass Hotel interweaves several complex narratives together as it tells a story of financial corruption, greed and a massive Ponzi scheme. Vincent is a bartender in a prestigious hotel on Vancouver Island. When the owner — Jonathan Alkaitis — passes Vincent his card, it becomes the beginning of their story together. Meanwhile, a hooded figure scrawls a cryptic note on a wall in the hotel, and a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis — Leon Prevant — sees the note and is shaken. Thirteen years later, Vincent disappears from a Neptune-Avramidis ship. 

Read an excerpt from The Glass Hotel now.

The Office Chorus

December 2008

We had crossed a line, that much was obvious, but it was difficult to say later exactly where that line had been. Or perhaps we'd all had different lines, or crossed the same line at different times. Simone, the new receptionist, didn't even know the line was there until the day before Alkaitis was arrested, which is to say the day of the 2008 holiday party, when Enrico came around to our desks in the late morning and told us that Alkaitis wanted us assembled on the 17th floor conference room at one o'clock. This had never happened before. The Arrangement was something we did, not something we talked about.

Alkaitis came in at 1:15, sat at the head of the table without making eye contact with anyone, and said, "We have liquidity problems."

There was no air in the room.

"I've arranged for a loan from the brokerage company," he said. "We'll route it through London and the record wire transfer as income from European trading."

"Will the loan be enough?" Enrico asked quietly.

"For the moment."

We had crossed a line, that much was obvious, but it was difficult to say later exactly where that line had been. Or perhaps we'd all had different lines, or crossed the same line at different times.

A knock on the door just then, and Simone came in with the coffee. No one was sure where to look. Simone had only been at the job for three weeks and wasn't party to the Arrangement, but it was immediately obvious to her that something was amiss. There was a charged quality to the room's internal atmosphere, like the air before an electrical storm. She was certain that someone had said something terrible just before she walked in. Only Ron returned her smile. Joelle stared blankly at her, Oskar was looking very fixedly at the legal pad on the table before him, and it seemed to Simone that there were tears in his eyes. Enrico and Harvey were staring into space. Alkaitis nodded when she came in and watched her until she left. Simone finished pouring the coffee and let herself out, closed the door, and waited in the corridor instead of walking away. It seemed to her that no one spoke for an unnaturally long time.

"Look," Alkaitis said finally, "we all know what we do here."

Emily St John Mandel on The Glass Hotel, her follow-up to her breakout novel Station Eleven. 16:03

Later, some of us would pretend we didn't hear this, but Simone's testimony would echo the accounts of several of us who did hear it. Some of us who pretended not to hear it would also pretend to not know there was a line — "I'm as much a victim as Mr. Alkaitis's investors," Joelle told a judge, who disagreed and sentenced her to 12 years — but then at the far opposite end of the spectrum was Harvey Alexander, who would agree wholeheartedly with Simone's testimony and go on to confess things he hadn't even been accused of in a kind of ecstasy of guilt, weepily admitting to padding his expenses and stealing office supplies, while puzzled investigators took notes and tried to gently steer the conversation back to the crime.

But for those of us who did hear what Alkaitis said in that meeting — those of us who admitted to hearing it — that statement represented the final crossing, or perhaps more accurately, the moment when it was no longer possible to ignore the topography and pretend that the border hadn't already been crossed. Of course we knew what we did here. We weren't idiots, except for Ron. We shuffled our papers or stared fixedly at notes or stared into space, and imagined leaving the country (Oskar) or looked out the window and made firm, actionable plans to leave the country (Enrico) or looked out the window and decided fatalistically that it was too late to go anywhere (Harvey) or indulged in the fantastical notion that somehow everything would work itself out (Joelle).

Of course we knew what we did here. We weren't idiots, except for Ron.

Ron glanced around, confused. He often seemed confused, the rest of us had noticed that about him, and it seemed he actually didn't know what we did here, which was baffling in retrospect: what did he think we were doing if not running a Ponzi scheme? When we talked among ourselves about the Arrangement, as we'd come to refer to it, what exactly did he think we were discussing? Still, there it was. He looked around in the silence, cleared his throat, and said, "Well, we have so much trading activity with the London office already, though."

The silence that followed this remark was, if possible, even worse than the silence that preceded it. No trade had ever been executed through the London office, because the London office was comprised of a single employee with five email addresses whose job was comprised of primarily wiring funds to New York to give the appearance of European trading activity.

"That's an excellent point, Ron," Harvey said. He spoke kindly and with a certain sadness.

This excerpt is taken from The Glass Hotel, copyright © 2020 by Emily St. John Mandel. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins Canada and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.


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