10. The Glass Hotel: A Novel
The Glass Hotel begins and ends with the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a container ship at sea. The mystery is gradually explained by the fallout from a massive Ponzi scheme that touches each character. The novel illuminates some of the themes—trust, fraud, risk, hope, strategy—explored by the nonfiction books elsewhere on this list.
Canadian novelist Emily St. John Mandel asks us to confront the fact that each of us is much less splendid than we think we are. The novel explores the porous boundaries between good and bad, greed and guilt, rich and poor and the realms of the past and present.
Much of the story is told through the eyes of Vincent, a young woman (named after the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay) who becomes the trophy pretend-wife of a recently widowed and extremely wealthy hedge fund manager. Jonathan Alkaitis also owns a hotel—the better to ensnare wealthy guests to invest in his fraudulent funds. Alkaitis is modeled on Bernie Madoff. WealthManagement.com readers will appreciate the skill with which the author describes the workings of the Ponzi scheme and how carefully cultivated greed alone kept investors from recognizing its manifest fraudulence.
Alkaitis recounts his downfall from prison, where he is serving a life sentence for his crimes. It’s rare to get such a poignant perspective from a fraudster who recognizes his sins, yet reaches for some grace. Maybe that’s why, though his staff was equally criminal, Alkaitis insists in court that no one but himself was culpable. We hear from Alkaitis’ employees in a brilliant chapter called “The Office Chorus” how they view the inception and unraveling of the Ponzi scheme. We all think we’re good around the margins of the bad.
Readers of Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s previous bestselling novel, about a pandemic, will recognize some of the characters in The Glass Hotel. Read the novels in any order. Both are that good.
Chapter 14—“The Office Chorus”
• “We had crossed a line, that much was obvious, but it was difficult to say later exactly where that line had been.”
• “Do you know what I’ve learned about money? I was trying to figure out why my life felt more or less the same in Singapore as it did in London, and that’s when I realized that money is its own country.”
• “There’s this other level, this whole other level of money, where it’s this whole other thing, like this secret game or something and only some people know how to play.”
• “‘It’s possible to both know and not know something,’ he said later, under cross-examination, and the state tore him to pieces over this but he spoke for several of us actually, several of us who’d been thinking a great deal about that doubleness, that knowing and not knowing, being honorable and not being honorable . . .”