Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – Book review

Quite simply, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel is just brilliant. It sets up the plot intrigue, layers in the evocative human angle, references the pandemic situation we find ourselves in and sets it all against a grand time-travelling backdrop that takes us from from 1912 to 2401.

That might sound like a lot to pack into less than 300 pages but the words just flow so lyrically and the story execution is tight. It’s such a delight to read. A wonderful, thoughtful, huge-scoping adventure.

The first moon colony was built on the silent flatlands of the Sea of Tranquility, near where the Apollo 11 astronauts had landed in a long-ago century.

If you’ve read Emily St. John Mandel’s previous books, Station Eleven or The Glass Hotel among them, then you’ll have a grasp of both the themes she explores and a backstory for the plot of Sea of Tranquility. I think you can enjoy this book without having read her previous ones, but knowing their stories definitely adds to the experience here.

Characters we met previously in The Glass Hotel, Vincent and Paul, appear, along with some new ones including Edwin, the second son of a British aristocratic family who, in 1912, ends up in Canada to try and find his purpose in life. What he finds is something far more inexplicable.

Author Olive Llewelyn lives in 2203 and is the Ariadne Oliver of this book, if you will. Olive is on a book tour as her novel, Marienbad, set during a pandemic was a huge hit. She travels from her home in a on Moon Colony Two to Earth for her tour.

‘So I’m guessing I’m not the first to ask you what it’s like to be the author of a pandemic novel during a pandemic.’

In 2401 we meet Gaspery Roberts and his sister Zoey, who work at the Time Institute. They may or may not be looking into time travel, especially at something from another time that’s caught their eye…

What is time travel if not a security problem?

I don’t want to give any spoilers in this review, so won’t delve anymore into the plot except to say you may think this sounds a bit complex or convoluted but fear not, it all makes perfect sense. I’m not always a huge fan of time-travel themed books, but this hooked me in.

I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story.

Sea of Tranquility is the best book I’ve read on this pandemic. For all its scope and time travel themes, it’s also so personal and has such a satisfying ending, it’s this combination that made such an impact. Superb storytelling.

Aside from the links to her previous books, I also thought of Everything You Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma while reading this, if you fancy another slightly surreal space exploring story.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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