This was so good! It’s set in the past and the future and jumps around in time. It follows seemingly disparate threads and characters who are tied together by their experiencing an odd event in which there is a flash of darkness and the sound of violin music. A character named Gaspery shows up and talks to each of the people who have experienced this event. There is time travel and conversations about the simulation hypothesis. There are meta elements, like a character who wrote a novel about a pandemic. This is the first of Mandel’s books that I’ve read, but from what I can tell she seems to like incorporating elements of her other novels when she writes (e.g., characters from The Glass Hotel show up in Sea of Tranquility, and there’s pandemic in it, as in Station Eleven ).
The pacing is masterful. I don’t think I usually pay much attention to that, but Mandel builds suspense and doles out information expertly, and generally what she reveals is unexpected but not in a jarring way. I appreciated how much of our current reality is expressed even hundreds of years in the future, so there isn’t too much technobabble jargon to weed through. In some ways, though, this is depressing. Hundreds of years in the future, and one of the characters is still experiencing sexism (e.g., a question about how she can be away from her daughter that she expects wouldn’t have been asked of a man). Although there is a lot of plot, and an immersive one at that, I would still describe this as a character-driven novel. We probably spend the most time with Gaspery (who gets the only first person narration sections in the novel) and Olive, the author who wrote a novel about a pandemic and is going on a book tour about it as another pandemic is happening.
If all of Mandel’s novels are like this, I’ll have to read them. She writes so engagingly, and it was so thought-provoking, though I struggle with wrapping my mind around time travel paradoxes. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys speculative or science fiction.