A Word on Words | NPT


The Glass Hotel | Emily St. John Mandel | NPT

Emily St. John Mandel joins us today for a stay at home edition of NPT's A WORD ON WORDS to talk about THE GLASS HOTEL, the follow-up to her massive breakout hit, and one of my all-time favorites, STATION ELEVEN, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award among other honours, and has been translated into 33 languages.

AIRED: July 03, 2020 | 0:03:08

(typewriter keys clacking)

(typewriter rings)

- Hi, my name is Emily St. John Mandel

and this is "The Glass Hotel."

It's a book about ghosts, about money,

about white collar crime.

I think of it as being a book about the lies

that we tell ourselves.

I really like ghost stories.

It seems to me that when we use that phrase, "ghost story,"

we tend to think of it in kind of classical terms.

Like we think in terms of, you know, the ghostly figure

kind of like wafting down the corridor

in the Victorian house, that kind of thing.

But it can be interesting to think about different ways

of being haunted.

Imagine the possibility that your life is haunted

by the ghosts of the lives you didn't live.

I kind of love that idea.

Or the way we're all kind of haunted

by the things we wish we'd said or wish we hadn't said

or had done or hadn't done.

So that became kind of an organizing principle of the book.

I wanted every section of the book

to have some kind of haunted-ness in it.

(gentle music)

- Where did you come up with this idea?

When was the moment when you went,

"Oh, I wanna write about this"?

- When Bernie Madoff was arrested in the winter of 2008.

You know, what really drew me in was actually his staff.

So that was a massive crime, a $65 billion, with a B,

dollar Ponzi scheme.

You know, if you're a billionaire you're not sitting down

to format all those fake account statements by yourself.

You got people for that.

And so I think a lot of people don't realize,

but about six or seven of his staffers ultimately went

to prison and I found myself thinking about the camaraderie

that you have with any group of people working together.

You know, you're showing up,

there's a kind of sense of shared mission.

And thinking of just how much more intense and surreal

and wild that would be if you were showing up

with your coworkers on Monday to perpetuate a crime.

I mean, that's just a crazy office dynamic.

(gentle music)

- [J.T.] Do you have any rules that you obey

when you are telling a story like this?

- So all of my novels have been non-linear.

And I feel like there's a right way and a wrong way

to do that.

And the wrong way is to kind of show off

and make it incredibly complex

and make it really difficult to follow.

I guess my only real rule is I try to be clear

about where we are in time

with a non-linear work.

That might be just about it. (laughs)

Yeah, I don't really have a lot of rules

that I follow for this.

- Emily, thank you so much for being here.

I'm thrilled for all your success.

- It's been such a pleasure.

Thanks for interviewing me.

- And thank you for watching "A Word on Words."

I'm J.T. Ellison.

For more on my conversation with Emily St. John Mandel

go to awordonwords.org.

(bell rings)

- [Emily] This is the least sympathetic problem

in the entire world,

but when you have a book that performs really well,

then there's a sudden awareness

of this kind of invisible audience looking over

your shoulder, waiting for your next move.


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