Book Review – Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Gloriously satisfying.

I bloody loved this book. I picked it up a few months ago as soon as I knew it had been released and added it to my, very long, post-Christmas to-be-read pile. I’d read Station 11 in 2020 and adored it, so have been waiting excitedly for Sea of Tranquility to arrive. After battling through a very disappointing The Living Dead by George A Romero and Danial Krauss, I was in serious need of a reading treat so surreptitiously moved it to the top of the pile. I’m so glad I did. What an amazing book. Satisfying and delighting in every possible way. I devoured it in two days while on holiday in Devon and found myself lovingly stroking the cover long after I had finished reading.

A beautifully written tale of time travel, mind-boggling meta-physics, wonderful characters, elegant connections and coincidences, love, kindness and humanity, Sea of Tranquillity takes us to the moon and back (literally) and spans a period of 500 years. Emily St. John Mandel is a gifted writer. Her plots are clever. Her writing is pure. Settings and characters sing on the page and yet she is skilfully economical with her words and descriptions. I felt every emotion her characters experienced. I worried for them. I exalted with them. I smiled. I laughed out loud. I cried a little. I had some enormous “Ah!” moments as connections and plot twists gradually revealed themselves.

There were some themes that echoed those of Station 11, namely pandemics and people connected by past encounters and relationships, and material objects. Like Station 11, these connections gradually revealed themselves in heart-warmingly startling ways.

I love the way the subject matter is technically pure sci-fi and yet in reality is totally “ungeeky” and utterly believable and every day. She makes living in a dome on the moon and flying about in supersonic hovercraft and airships seem entirely normal.

One character, a writer called Olive Llewellyn, receives some feedback from a reader to the effect that her book was a confusing collection of narrative strands that never came together. This is not true of Emily St. John Mandel. What begin as an apparently disparate collection of narrative strands, flow comfortably through the book and weave naturally together at the end of the story. There is no confusion. There are no unanswered questions. Just glorious resolution and clarity.

Maybe that’s not entirely true? There is one enormous question that runs under the surface of the book and lingers on at the end, not for the characters who know the answer, but for the reader themselves. But, I’ll leave you to discover and ponder that one for yourself.

Needless to say, I’ve just bought and started reading The Glass Hotel.

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