Mandel’s The Glass Hotel (Knopf, Mar.) offers a portrait of a sister and her half-brother that is part ghost story, part mystery, and part morality tale about financial crime.
Do you believe in ghosts?
My instinct is to not believe in ghosts. But I’ve met so many rational people with unexplainable stories, I’m not prepared to dismiss them. I always wanted to write a ghost story. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid. We tend to think of ghost stories in the classic sense—the shadowy figure approaching up the hallway. But what if you were haunted by the ghost of the life you didn’t lead or haunted by a decision you made or failed to make?
Another inspiration was writing about white-collar crime. When the Bernie Madoff story broke, I was working as an administrative assistant. I thought about those office workers: what stories would you tell yourself about why what you’re doing is somehow okay?
Are the hotel and its small-town location real places?
The hotel is my dream hotel. Caiette is not a real place, but it’s based on a real place: Quatsino, British Columbia. I spent a couple of weeks there when I was 14 and found it incredibly beautiful. There’s something surreal in the idea of a five-star hotel in that part of the world. Most of the action is set in places I know, like Vancouver Island or Manhattan. I’ve never been to Dubai. From what I’ve read there’s a somewhat surreal element to it as well. It seemed appropriate for the dreamlike state one of the characters finds himself in as he imagines what he calls a counterlife.
Could you talk about the main characters, Vincent and Paul, and why their stories are not told in chronological order?
Vincent and Paul have a somewhat strained relationship. With half-siblings, you’re only partially in the same family. You don’t have the experience of childhood that a full sibling growing up in the same household would have. When Vincent writes graffiti on a window, she’s 13. Her mother has just recently died and she’s a little undone. Later, Paul is paid to deliver a message in the most shocking way possible and he remembers that incident. Paul’s message is intended for an audience of one, but it reverberates to other lives, including Vincent’s. There are unintended consequences. All my novels have this sort of nonlinear structure. I’m always trying to reach the point of maximum tension in the plot. Another way of putting it is I’m trying to make the book as not boring as possible.
I understand there’s a miniseries in the works.
Yes, I’m working on the pilot draft. I’m enjoying TV writing. I love writing novels, but I’ve written five novels. It’s fun to try something different.