I’ve read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, so it felt almost inevitable that I would read her latest book. Sea of Tranquility came out this year (2022), and includes a couple of characters that we first met in The Glass Hotel (although it is definitely not necessary to read The Glass Hotel first). I found it to be an interesting, well-written, imaginative novel. St. John Mandel did an impressive job in balancing her different characters and intertwining her storylines. I only had one small issue with the believability of one part of the story.
It is 1912 and Edwin St. Andrew has embarrassed his family for the last time. The younger son of the English gentry is sent away to America. “Edwin is capable of action but prone to inertia.” (10) Thus, Edwin wanders around Canada with no direction until he finds himself in a forest that momentarily turns into a futuristic airport with the sound of violin music.
In January 2020, the video artist Paul James Smith (the brother of Vincent from The Glass House) shows a video in a forest where he added his own soundtrack. In that video, there appears to be some kind of glitch.
Olive Llewellyn lives in the future in a colony on the moon. She is traveling around Earth on a book tour. In the book, she describes walking through an airport terminal and seeing a forest. She misses her husband and daughter back at home. People are starting to get sick on Earth and she’s asked what it’s like to be an author of a pandemic novel during a pandemic (something that St. John Mandel is probably familiar with).
Gaspery-Jacques Roberts also lives in the future, and is stuck in a rut. But through his sister’s work at the Time Institute, he is able to volunteer to travel through time to investigate the strange ripple that seems to be causing a weird connection between a futuristic airport and a peaceful forest. It is Roberts that ties Paul James Smith, Edwin Andrews, and Olive Llewellyn together.
St. John Mandel wrote an impressive, original, and very creative novel. The characters were interesting and the story makes you think.
***SPOILERS*** I found Gaspery-Jacques Roberts to be a fascinating character, and I found his journey to be very interesting. However, I did not buy the Time Institute’s punishment when Gaspery defied them and warned Olive that she would die if she did not immediately return to the moon. The Time Institute framed him for murder in a different time, banishing him to jail. But the Time Institute was pissed because he’d messed with the future. Aren’t they messing with the future even more by doing this? Why don’t they kill him or imprison him in the present? Being lost in time is certainly a scary and creepy punishment, but it seems less than practical and would most likely have important, unintended consequences. ***END SPOILERS***
“There’s a low-level, specific pain in having to accept that putting up with you requires a certain generosity of spirit in your loved ones.” (103)
“Because we might reasonably think of the end of the world,” Olive said, “as a continuous and never-ending process.” (166)
“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.” (167)
“If definitive proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be So what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.” (210)
You can find all my reviews on my blog.