In brief: Set across three time periods, a strange experience unites three different individuals. Can a detective from the future explain this glitch in time?
The good: No matter what Emily St. John Mandel writes, I know I’ll enjoy it.
The not-so-good: I read it really quickly.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Setting: Canada, USA, England, the Moon…
Rating: 10 out of 10
Emily St. John Mandel can write about anything – moon colonies, airships, learning the violin – and make it seem endlessly fascinating. Sea of Tranquility takes snippets of characters from her previous novels, The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven and makes a fascinating story linking people across centuries. You don’t have to have read either novel to enjoy it (I still haven’t read Station Eleven), but it was a thrill to see characters from The Glass Hotel again and learn a little more about them.
The connecting experience between the three time periods is a strange sensation, a glitch in the matrix if you like, that several characters experience. There’s the sound of a violin, a hydraulic whoosh and a forest. What do these three characters and experiences have in common? To try to sort it out, Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is put to task, but will he make things better or worse? The initial story is set in 1912 Canada is Edwin St Andrew is asked to leave his family home in England. What he sees in the forest disturbs him, and jolts his lazy nature. In 2020, an experimental music artist plays a video during his music. The footage was shot by his dead sister Vincent and is confusing to all who see it. In the future, Olive Llewellyn, a writer from the Moon Colonies, is undertaking a book tour of Earth. Many people want to discuss with her a passage in her pandemic novel that is similar to Edwin and Vincent’s experiences. They want to know more but another pandemic lurks around the corner…
I trust Emily St. John Mandel with what she tells me as a reader. Whatever seems to make no sense initially will come together, and it does so in Sea of Tranquility. After reading about Olive, Vincent and Edwin’s experiences, it’s time for Gaspery to take over the narrative. His story is fascinating, otherworldly and downright interesting. As for the ending, it seems so simple and makes perfect sense. Even though I’m not much of a science fiction reader, Emily St. John Mandel’s portrayals of the future – think airships, intergalactic travel and ubiquitous devices – appear realistic, as does the decay of the Moon Colonies as other frontiers are explored.
The writing is sparse, yet detailed. As the stories become more and more connected, I was eager to read more and more. I love the style and the way one sentence sets off a range of images in my mind. I really need to get stuck into Emily St. John Mandel’s backlist, so I can enjoy more of her exquisite writing while I wait for her next novel.