Reviews of Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility

A novel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel X
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
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  • Published:
    Apr 2022, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She's traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive's best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

1

No star burns forever. You can say "it's the end of the world" and mean it, but what gets lost in that kind of careless usage is that the world will eventually literally end. Not "civilization," whatever that is, but the actual planet.

Which is not to say that those smaller endings aren't annihilating. A year before I began my training at the Time Institute, I went to a dinner party at my friend Ephrem's place. He was just back from a vacation on Earth, and he had a story about going on a walk in a cemetery with his daughter, Meiying, who was four at the time. Ephrem was an arborist. He liked to go to old cemeteries to look at the trees. But then they found the grave of another four-year-old girl, Ephrem told me, and he just wanted to leave after that. He was used to graveyards, he sought them out, he'd always said he didn't find them depressing, just peaceful, but that one grave just got to him. He looked at it and was unbearably sad. Also it was the worst kind of Earth ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Loneliness is a palpable theme in the novel, almost unbearably so. But the web of connectivity among the characters makes them members of a community, even if they don't get to know themselves how they fit into a larger picture. Like The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven, Sea of Tranquility is concerned with deep philosophical questions. The author considers the nature of reality, time and memory, the significance of art in perilous times, and what we owe one another as fellow human beings...continued

Full Review Members Only (668 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

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Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] complicated and mysterious puzzle concerning the nature of reality solved perfectly, all loose ends connected...Some of the scenes involving life in 25th-century pandemic quarantine are quite recognizable; this novel is futuristic without being all that dystopian. Perhaps our expectations have changed. Even more boldly imagined than Station Eleven. Exciting to read, relevant, and satisfying.

New York Times
In "Sea of Tranquility," Mandel offers one of her finest novels and one of her most satisfying forays into the arena of speculative fiction yet, but it is her ability to convincingly inhabit the ordinary, and her ability to project a sustaining acknowledgment of beauty, that sets the novel apart.

Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
In Mandel's stunning latest, people find themselves inhabiting different places and times, from early 20th-century Canada to a 23rd-century moon colony…The novel's narratives crystallize flawlessly. Brilliantly combining imagery from science fiction and the current pandemic, Mandel grounds her rich metaphysical speculation in small, beautifully observed human moments. By turns playful, tragic, and tender, this should not be missed.

Author Blurb Emma Straub, best-selling author of All Adults Here
I could write a thousand words about Emily St. John Mandel, and this book, and this moment but I won't dare spoil it. Truly soul-affirming.

Author Blurb Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Mercies
A spiraling, transportive triumph of storytelling - sci-fi with soul.

Library Journal
A distinctly slight work from Mandel, one that is very much enjoyable on its own terms and nails its tonal progression but has too soft a center to hold up to much scrutiny.

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Beyond the Book

Fictional Pandemics

Emily St. John Mandel's Sea of Tranquility features a character Mandel seems to have based loosely on herself: an author named Olive Llewellyn who is famous for writing a novel about a pandemic. Pandemics are a common trope in novels, particularly in the speculative or science fiction genre, with authors considering different imagined scenarios as to how a pandemic might occur and who might be affected. The following is a list of recent novels that feature fictional pandemics as a means of exploring social and political issues as well as human behavior.

Covers of books about fictional pandemics

Station Eleven (2014) – Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and one of BookBrowse's Best of the Year ...

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