I have been really looking forward to reading this and for me it did not disappoint at all. I’m definitely a fan of Emily St. John Mandel, and I love authors who build an entire universe out of their characters without deliberately building a series / sequels. You can pick up any of her novels and see that they’re companions, without needing to read them in a particular order. I think it’s important to say that so anyone who is completely new to Emily St. John Mandel knows it is okay to start here – the novel itself makes sense on its own. That said, it definitely enriches the novel to have read about Vincent and Mirella and Paul (and some others).
This is a novel that jumps through time, not only narratively but also with a literal time traveler whose perspective we follow (among other characters). Unlike many novels that tell stories across time, this novel is succinct – at only 255 pages, this could be an afternoon read, which feels refreshing. Mandel packs these pages with tension in the form of pandemics, authoritarian government tactics, and the overall claustrophobia related to living in enclosed spaces. Her novels are full of the existential dread of our times – and she manages to make that dread both universal and hopeful.
It’s a little tricky to talk about the plot without spoiling. We move from 1912, where a soon-to-be Earl’s son moves to Canada, to early 2020 (just pre-Covid) where a woman learns more about an old friend, then we jump to 2203 where an author (clearly inspired by Mandel) goes on a book tour talking about pandemics in an eerily prescient book tour, and then we jump to a colony on the moon in 2401. Across these centuries, we see some connected people and events, and over time, the story becomes more clear. Fans of Mandel will recognize the masterful way that she is able to hide big reveals in plain sight.
I loved this book. I thought it did what Mandel’s books do best – it managed to be both current and timeless (in so many ways). What might we change, if we could? Mandel invites us to consider what really matters in life, in the most subtle ways.