Title: Sea of Tranquility
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publication date: April 5, 2022
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Science fiction
The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.
Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.
When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.’
I’m not sure how to even begin describing the beauty of Sea of Tranquility. The writing here is so precise, and the narrative arc so carefully constructed, that I was spellbound from start to finish.
Part of me hesitates to describe the plot at all, other than what’s already shared in the book’s synopsis. I read the book without first reading anything about it, and I’m so happy that I did. Letting the wonder unfold around you is really the best way to experience Sea of Tranquility.
But to give a brief idea — the various sections of the book occur in completely separately timelines and locations. From 1912, across time and space all the way to the 2400s, there are vignettes — some very short, some with more detail and length — delving into specific actions and moments in the lives of the characters.
As you might guess, there is a connection that ties all these vignettes together eventually. As each piece slotted into place, I experienced continuous “aha” moments as elements became clearer. And while some concepts are more mind-blowing than others, there’s a sense throughout that there’s more to the book, and more to our lives, than we could possibly even hope to truly understand.
If you haven’t yet read Sea of Tranquility, then what I’ve written probably makes little sense, but I truly don’t want to discuss specifics and risk lessening the pleasure of discovery for anyone considering reading the book.
At under 300 pages, Sea of Tranquility is easy to get through quickly, but the images and ideas linger long after reading the final lines. This is my first 5-star read of 2023, and will absolutely be going on my “favorites” list.
In case it’s not obvious: Highly recommended.