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