“This is the strange lesson of living in a pandemic: life can be tranquil in the face of death,” (St. John Mandel 195).
Eighteen-year-old Edwin St. Andrew comes to Canada after disgracing his family during a family dinner. He finds himself exploring a Canadian forest when he suddenly hears a few notes of a violin and strange hydraulic noises before the vision is gone, quickly explained away as a hallucination. Two centuries later, author Olive Llewllyn is on Earth for a book tour, far from her home on the second moon colony, the moment Edwin experienced curiously appears in the text of her famous pandemic novel Marienbad. Meanwhile, a detective in the Night City, Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, is hired to investigate an anomaly with the Time Institute with strict orders to investigate a Canadian forest and a young man, a famous author, and how it is their stories connect.
I’ve been meh about Mandel’s arguably most famous works Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. I gave Station Eleven a high rating because while I was undecided with my feelings of the book it was a story I couldn’t shake out of my head, and that had to mean something. I gave The Glass Hotel a very low rating because it just seemed to drag and kept me confused, though now I understand it as a parallel story to Station Eleven so I wonder how my thoughts would change re-reading it knowing that, or how my thoughts on Station Eleven would change while living through a pandemic.
Sea of Tranquility is another parallel story to Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, each a companion to the other. It isn’t necessary to read them all or to even give an order to reading them, they’re each their own unique story, but having read all three I did enjoy the Easter Eggs scattered throughout as well as recognizing certain characters popping up again in different ways. I was surprised by how quick a read it was, Mandel kept me engaged right from the start and I was eager to follow the threads of these stories as they tangled together. I found Olive’s storyline most engaging, an author of a pandemic novel on a book tour just as a pandemic is beginning. It’s hard not to notice the autobiographical element and comparisons and Olive and Mandel, both authors of pandemic literature when a pandemic rages. I thought Mandel wrote of the pandemic excellently, the bleakness, the tiredness from screens, how everything at the start felt frozen, like we and the world were all holding our breaths. I thought Gaspery was such a genuine, kind, and intriguing character as well. And though I haven’t mentioned Edwin much I enjoyed him too, his sweet innocence, his love in the beauty of the world.
The book was just so engaging, so addicting, strangely nostalgic and hopeful. I like the fiction of pretending people actually care about one another. SPOILER
It was nice to believe, even briefly, in a world that focuses on people doing good to strangers no matter how insignificant it may seem. Whether the person has a lifetime left or only a couple of days, it was nice to see someone who acknowledged that their lives, that stranger’s lives, still mattered. SPOILER
Any book that literally has me gasping in shock while reading is a good one in my books. Sea of Tranquility was such a stellar read, I’ll definitely be checking out Mandel’s older works after this!
Publication: April 5 2022
Pages: 255 pages (Hardcover)
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Canadian
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤.5
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 bestselling 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 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.