Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

My Five Word TL:DR Review: This book equals mind blown


Words actually fail me right now – which isn’t the best start to a review is it?  I am in complete awe of this author and can’t even begin to outline how impressive this book is.  On the face of it this is a standalone story that fundamentally connects the lives of four people who share an experience through a strange anomaly, a glitch in the system if you will, that in the future will be scrutinised and investigated by a time travel agency.  Dig a little deeper and this novel actually brings together elements from the author’s previous works (definitely The Glass Hotel and also I think Station Eleven) in the most eye popping feat.  If that wasn’t enough, one of the characters is an author herself, of a post apocalyptic book that has become a bestseller.  There are so many little twists and turns in this book all finished off with a mouth dropping conclusion that is simply brilliant.

If that doesn’t intrigue you enough to delve into this author’s work then consider also that her writing is absolutely beautiful and I could easily have had a whole stack of quotes at this point but for the fact that I’m so lazy at keeping notes, especially when I’m deep in the throes of a book I’m loving.

So, I know I’m going to make a complete muddle of trying to describe the plot but here goes.  We basically meet four individuals from different times and places.  A young man who in 1912 finds himself exiled from his family who travels to Canada to start a new life.  A teenage girl from the year 1994 who is walking through a forest taking a video, a short film that picks up a strange anomaly.  Her film will be used 26 years later to accompany a musical score that her brother composes.  In the year 2203 we follow an author on an extended book tour, separated from her husband and young child and missing home.  Jump forward again to 2401 where an employee of the Time Institute is given a case to investigate – a case that will tie all these threads together.

Firstly, time travel books can be very hit or miss for me but when they work well, as is the case here, I find them thought provoking in the extreme.  With this particular story it feels like the potential to become tangled (did you read my synopsis of the plot?) is highly possible.  However, the author’s writing chops prevents that from becoming the case.  Each narrative seems to flow without either beginning or end.  I know that sounds crazy but it’s one of the thoughts I distinctly remember having whilst I was reading.  It’s magical, one minute you’re reading a person’s narrative and thoughts and then you’ve moved to another player and there’s no confusion or muddy waters, just a really elegant transition that is so smooth that each player seems to simply blend into the background or come back into focus as the story dictates, like a camera panning round and zooming in or out to capture a person or moment.  And the story doesn’t necessarily flow in chronological order but jumps backwards and forwards in time, but, again, I would stress that I never experienced any confusion.

Secondly, the author has written of a fictional author who has published a successful post apocalyptic novel that becomes even more poignant when the time in which she lives falls victim to a vicious pandemic.  Layers within layers within layers.

The settings jump about.  We travel not only on earth but on planets that have been colonised, some more successfully than others.  Planets where huge domes provide faux skies, clouds and rain and others where the technology has failed and the skies are permanently dark.

I don’t think I can add too much more.  I liked the characters.  I loved the inclusion of little elements taken from previous stories.  I thought the plot was skillfully managed and the threads all came together in an extremely satisfying way.  I think the only thing I can say further at this point is I feel like a reread is in order.

I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this book, Station Eleven or The Glass Hotel although I would stress that each novel can be read as a standalone.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

GlassMy TL:DR Five Word Review : Could not put it down

To be honest, I requested a review copy of The Glass Hotel because I loved Station Eleven. I didn’t read the description and when I picked up the book I’d only read a couple of reviews and had very little idea what to expect, although I was becoming a little nervous because on the face of it the premise seemed a little outside of my comfort zone.  In fact, if somebody was to try and give me an idea of what The Glass Hotel was about I think it would probably come across really badly and I’d undoubtedly run a mile.  So, basically, I’m not going to talk about the plot at all because I think at best I would end up tying myself in knots and at worst maybe even discourage others from reading this because of my botched attempt at summarising the gist of the story.

Here’s a snippet from Goodreads :

‘From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it.’

So, I’m going to focus on other things here and it’s all going to be positive.

On the face of it a story spread over a couple of decades with a backdrop that examines the financial crisis of 2008 particularly centring on ponzi schemes couldn’t sound less appealing to me even if it tried.  And yet, here I find myself absolutely loving this book and wanting to wax lyrical about it. To be blunt, I simply can’t believe how much I enjoyed this story.  I feel like I’ve been mesmerized or hypnotised or some special magic has been worked.  I read this in one day, ignoring the everyday mundane banalities such as eating or chores and in fact staying up until the wee hours to finish it and even though I was shattered when I eventually crashed into bed I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

This book is complex.  It goes back and forth between people and times and yet it all comes together in perhaps one of the most satisfying ways I’ve ever encountered.  The characters are so well imagined that I feel like I know them and the strong emotions that this creates really contributes to the overall experience.

On top of this the writing is brilliant.  I take my hat off to the author for pulling together such a myriad of tales using what can reasonably be described as quite ‘dry’ material and yet managing to make this into a compelling tale filled with mystery, sadness and unexpected depth.

To be honest, I’m not going to say too much more because I feel like my review has taken on the semblance of a headless chicken running around hysterically.

In a nutshell I loved this book.  It’s a haunting story, beautifully written, that depicts people in many guises.  Like a pebble dropped into a pond it look at the ripples we cause through our actions, sometimes knowingly, sometimes whilst fiercely in denial and sometimes by pure chance. It’s not a heartwarming tale of love and laughter.  It’s not a tale of swords and sorcery.  But it’s a book that managed to overwhelm me in the most unexpected way and, because of that, I love it.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Rating 5 of 5 stars




Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel #RRSciFiMonth

station-11I’ve just finished reading Station Eleven and absolutely loved it. I bought this book such a long time ago and since then have seen plenty of glowing reviews but for some reason I’ve hesitated to pick it up.  I don’t think I really knew what to expect when I started to read and perhaps that was a good thing.  What I did know was that it was a book about the end of civilisation and so I admit I was expecting a rather gloomy and foreboding read.  What I found instead was a book that was actually quite beautiful with a cast of really well drawn characters whose lives touch in meaningful ways as the story unfolds. I was absolutely fascinated by this story and could barely tear myself away from the pages.

At the start of the novel we make the introduction of Arthur Leander, a successful actor currently appearing in a theatre production of King Leah who unfortunately suffers a heart attack and dies on stage. Jeevan Chaudhary is watching the play with his girlfriend and being a newly qualified EMT has recognised the signs and has rushed to Arthur’s aid.  Meanwhile, watching the drama from the wings is a child actress named Kirsten Raymonde.  This scene will remain one of her few memories of the time before the collapse of civilisation.  Basically, the world is about to be devastated by a fast acting mutated flu virus that, much like the plague, will kill so many people that humans almost face extinction.

From here the plot does quite a lot of jumping around, back and forth to the years before the collapse and then jumping to approximately 20 years after and we get to follow the lives of these main characters as their paths intersect or once again come together.  I have to applaud the style used here as really Arthur, having died in the opening stages of the book, should have very little input into the story but instead the way in which the story is told allows him to become the central focus for all the other characters, he’s the sun and they’re all orbiting him in some way.

In the pre collapse years we observe Arthur on his path to fame and fortune, his three failed marriages and ultimately his reflections on his own life just shortly before he passes away. It very much feels like Arthur has been acting out his own life rather than really living it, moving through the motions and casually dropping people along the way. His first wife Miranda is the one who has the biggest impact on him and although the relationship is ultimately doomed the two clearly still share feelings for each other.  Miranda in fact also has an impact on the story.  She’s an unusual character who seems herself to be something of a loner.  Her life’s work has revolved around a graphic novel called Station Eleven that not only gives the book it’s title but has quite an impact on a couple of the key people.  Station Eleven has an almost prophetic feel to it – we don’t really gain an insight into the full plot but we are given certain snippets.  It seems that Miranda, at certain points is inserting parts of her own story into that of her graphic novel but in terms of other elements there is a strange reflective quality for what takes place in later years.  For example, Station Eleven is a small space station, shaped like a planet, that due to damage is ultimately covered with water and little remote islands.  Thinking about the environment after the collapse the towns themselves, whilst not surrounded by water, are themselves like isolated islands.  There is no quick means of travelling from A to B and no way of easily connecting with other people.  No phones, no internet, no planes or cars.

In the later years of the story we follow in the tracks of a theatre company called The Travelling Symphony.  An eclectic bunch of characters who travel from town to town providing entertainment and music to the people they come across.  It’s not an easy life – travelling in between places is dangerous to say the least, food must be hunted for but occasionally the relationships that spring up between the performers makes everything a little more easy to endure.  Kirsten is a member of the company.  Only a child before the collapse she remembers very little of civilisation.  She has a tattoo on her arm that is a quote from Star Trek – even though she has no real memory of the show itself.  She knows that as a child she experienced electricity, lighting at the flick of a switch, travel using planes and cars and yet these things are but distant memories – she knows they were a part of her life before but really she can’t recall them and they have a dreamlike quality in this new era of darkness.

At this point the plot diverges a little when the Travelling Symphony return to a town they previously played at, St. Deborah by the Water, but which seems to have undergone something of a transformation.  It seems that the town is now in the grip of a new gang of characters headed by somebody known as ‘The Prophet’.  Clearly St Deborah is not a safe place to travel through any longer and the travelling thespians leave in something of a hurry.

There were a number of things that I really loved about this book.  First and foremost is the author’s ability to make these characters stand out.  Their stories are so intriguing that I was captivated by them all.  What makes this an even more impressive feat is that this isn’t a doorstopper sized novel and yet the author makes each of these characters compelling to read about.  I literally cared for them and was in places scared for their safety.  Which brings me to the next thing that really impressed me.  Yes, this is a book that could be very dismal to read but it isn’t.  We read about the slow collapse of so many things that we take for granted in our every day lives but rather than turn this into a blood battle with gangs of almost feral packs of people committing unspeakable acts in the name of survival, the book focuses on the people who are surviving and the lives they’re leading.  Undoubtedly, over the years, terrible things have happened, and most of the survivors have the scars that bear witness to such acts but I found this intriguing and hopeful rather than gloomy and dreadful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Station 11 which is borne out by the fact that I devoured the book so quickly and have no hesitation in recommending it.  If you want a compelling story full of heart then definitely give this a try.

This is my first book as part of Sci Fi month 2016.  Details here if you want to come and enjoy the fun.






Friday Firsts: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel #RRSciFiMonth


Friday Firsts is a new meme that runs every Friday over on Tenacious Reader. The idea is to feature the first few sentences/paragraph of your current book and try and outline your first impressions as a result. This is a quick and easy way to share a snippet of information about your current read and to perhaps tempt others.  Stop on by and link up with Tenacious Reader.  As this month is Sci fi Month 2016 my book today is a science fiction novel that I’ve had on my shelves for a while now.scifimonth2016


‘The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.  This was act 4 of King Lear, a winter night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.  Earlier in the evening, three little girls had played a clapping game onstage as the audience entered, childhood versions of Lear’s daughters, and now they’d returned as hallucinations in the mad scene.  The king tumbled and reached for them as they flitted here and there in the shadows.  His name was Arthur Leander.  He was fifty-one years old and there were flowers in his hair.

“Dost thou know me?” the actor playing Gloucester asked.  “I remember thine eyes well enough,” Arthur said, distracted by the child version of Cordelia, and this was when it happened.  There was a change in his face, he stumbled, he reached for a column but misjudged the distance and struck it hard with the side of his hand.’

Station Eleven – which is your favourite cover:  I like both and they’re so completely different but on balance I think the dark cover would attract my attention more.

My First Impressions

I really don’t know what to expect from this book and I’m not sure that opening really gives much away!  But, I’m really looking forward to this book so, here goes..

What are you reading right now? Did it start out strong? Feel free to join in.