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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

In this nested story that spans centuries, Mandel explores a pandemic, moon colonization, the universal connection of music, the temptation to change the past, portals and time loops, loyalty, fear, love, and wonder.

I listened to Emily St. John Mandel's newest book, Sea of Tranquility.

In this science fiction novel, Mandel plays with time and time travel as well as mysteries surrounding what may be a portal linking individuals through time. Mandel explores an emerging pandemic in a future with a colonized moon, considers the universal connection of music, and digs into the difficulty and danger in changing the past.

In 1912, Edwin St. Andrew, a second son, is exiled by his family from England to Canada for voicing unpopular opinions at the dinner table (don’t get too invested in him; he’s here to allow St. John to set the 1912 piece of the puzzle).

In 2020, we meet Mirella and Vincent (characters from The Glass Hotel). They are also not richly developed, but they're important to the structure and the odd interconnectedness at the heart of the mysterious events here.

Much later, during a period of extensive moon colonization (and the beginnings of further flung settlements), author Olive Llewellyn is traveling on a book tour to promote her book Marienbad, about a pandemic. (The plot of this book within a book sounds somewhat similar to that of Mandel’s Station Eleven, a book I loved).

But all of these players and times feel mainly to be in place to serve as a structure for our true main protagonist, Gaspary, and we see the most depth and development and change; loyalty and love and grief; wonder and danger; resignation and hope in his portion of the story. This was where I was captivated and delighted and emotionally engaged.

Scorned Edwin has an odd experience in the forest with inexplicable futuristic visions and sounds; two centuries later (our current day) Olive writes about an almost identical personal experience; and detective Gaspary from the future's Night City investigates their mysterious intersections through time--and becomes inextricably linked to a timeline connecting all of them.

The time travel and multiple story lines and odd, interesting, untethered moments that kept me from settling in time reminded me a little bit of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, but at a slim 255 pages (Bone Clocks is 624 pages), Sea of Tranquility is a story shaped by its structure, without as much room or page time to meander as Mitchell's story.

Sea of Tranquility is strange and ethereal, with a surprise toward the end that I delighted in.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Do you like books that play with time? You might like the books I list on the Greedy Reading Lists Six Second-Chance, Do-Over, Reliving-Life Stories or Six Riveting Time-Travel Escapes or these Bossy reviews of books that play with time.

Click here for my review of Mandel's Station Eleven.


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