Book review and synopsis for The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, a story about the fallout from a ponzi scheme coming undone.
The Glass Hotel opens with the disappearance of a woman from a container ship. It leads into a story focusing on the fallout from the collapse of a Ponzi scheme, mirroring the Bernie Madiff scandal from 2008.
A work of literary fiction, this narrative looks at the corrupt financier's wife, employees and numerous investors in his fund. It's a story about greed, corruption, guilt and the ghosts that haunt us.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Glass HotelQuick Plot Summary
In Part I, the book opens with snippets, indicating that someone has fallen off a ship. In 1999, Paul leaves school after he accidentally gives someone bad drugs, resulting in their death. Distraught, he goes to find his half-sister Vincent. In 2005, Vincent and Paul are working at a luxury hotel, The Hotel Caiette. After a graffiti incident, Paul is asked to leave. Jonathan Alkaitis, a frequent guest and the owner of the hotel property, has a reservation the night the graffiti appears. Years later, Walter, the hotel night manager, learns that Jonathan ended up marrying Vincent.
In 2008, Vincent is 24. Jonathan is 58. Jonathan is a wealthy New York financier, and it brings Vincent into a life of luxury, which lasts from 2005-2008. They are not legally married, but she lives as his trophy wife. Jonathan warns that there is a woman, Ella Kaspersky, who is crazy and has been accusing him of fraud. Vincent befriends Mirella, whose boyfriend is a Saudi prince that invests with Jonathan. A few months before it all comes crashing down, Vincent meets, Olivia is a former painter whose only notable sale was a painting of Jonathan's deceased older brother, Lucas. All of Olivia's money is invested with Jonathan.
In Part II, Jonathan is arrested and sentenced to 170 years in prison in December 2008. There was a meeting where Jonathan had admitted that he was running a Ponzi scheme to his daughter Claire and to Vincent. Afterwards, Claire had alerted the authorities, resulting in Jonathan's arrest. After the arrest, Vincent gets a job bartending and in a kitchen. There's a run-in with Mirella (whose boyfriend Faisal is now dead due to Jonathan's misdeeds). As a result, Vincent quits and in 2013 she joins a ship, the Neptune Cumberland, as an assistant cook. Meanwhile, in prison, Jonathan sees the ghosts of Faisal and Yvette (who had a heart attack as a result of her financial destruction).
Before the arrest, Vincent learns that Paul ended up taking videos she had shot as a kid, adding music and passing them off as his own work. He's been making a living with his video and music performances. She's angry, but realizes that Jonathan wouldn't like her causing drama about it.
Part III starts by re-examining the events leading up to the arrest. Due to turbulence in the financial markets, Jonathan's fake fund was having liquidity problems. The day of his arrest, he announces this to the 17th Floor, the asset management arm, where there were a handful of people whose work help to perpetuate the fraud. On the 18th Floor, the brokerage arm, the firm operates as a normal, legit broker-dealer. When Jonathan announces the liquidity issue, everyone on 17 freaks out. Enrico books a flight to Mexico and leaves. Harvey begins writing a confession. Simone, a new secretary, is asked to start shredding papers. Jonathan is arrested that night, and the others are soon arrested as well.
A decade later in 2018, Vincent falls overboard the Neptune Cumberland. Leon Prevant, who has been struggling financially since his savings were wiped out by Jonathan, is asked to investigate as a consultant. Michael Saparelli, from the security office, investigates as well. There's some indications that it was Geoffrey, a guy Vincent was dating. However, Saparelli tells Leon that it's better to write reports that don't result in people getting fired if he wants more consulting work. Leon doesn't mention it in his report, but he still doesn't get additional consulting work.
In prison, Jonathan sees Olivia's ghost and soon learns that Olivia is dead, too. Meanwhile, Ella turns out to be the one who had asked Paul to graffiti a threatening message for Alkaitis to see that night in 2005. Ella had been approached years ago by Jonathan and had recognized that something fraudulent was going on. She had tried to alert the SEC to no avail. The hotel is closed after Jonathan's arrest. Walter, the night manager, stays on as the caretaker for the empty property. Years pass and the rest of Floor 17 serve their time and are released. One of them, Oskar, ends up back in prison on a drug charge.
The book closes with Vincent falling off the ship. She sees the ghost of Olivia, which causes her to drop her video camera and reach in after it, resulting in her fall. Vincent sees a snippets of things as she falls, including Paul who recognizes that she's a ghost. He apologizes for stealing from her, but Vincent admits she's a thief too, because she had known on some level that there was some type of malfeasance going on with Jonathan's fund. It ends with Vincent finding her mother, who died in an accident when Vincent was 13.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.