Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility follows characters through six centuries and multiple pandemics.
Book review of sea of tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
A novel that explores characters living across six centuries, through multiple pandemics, and amid rivers and man-made skies is no small feat, let alone a feat to be accomplished gently. Yet such a reading exists in Emily St. John Mandel’s latest book, sea of tranquility. Like many recent novels, it is St. John Mandel’s “pandemic project,” and while it features a pandemic to some degree, what it accomplishes goes much deeper.
The book begins in 1912 in rural Vancouver Island. Edwin St. Andrew experiences something that can only be described as otherworldly and quickly descends into madness. Unbeknownst to Edwin, he shares this experience with countless others across the centuries: with author Olive Llewellyn; in present-day Caiette, British Columbia, with the young filmmaker Vincent (whom readers will recognize from The Glass Hotel) – and with Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, whose presence, some would say, comes at just the right time. What is this mysterious flash that transports the characters into the same space? And how does Gaspery, a seemingly “typical” human, appear century after century? Add in a universe where humans no longer inhabit just Earth, having expanded to colonies on the Moon, and you have a novel that not only explores the limits of Earth, but also those of time.
Sea of Tranquility offers its readers a bit of everything: a healthy dose of realism, an exploration of what it means to do the “right” thing, even with unimaginable consequences, and a dash of the supernatural. St. John Mandel’s smooth prose transports its reader seamlessly from start to finish and ties the novel together in a neat little package. It was a thorough, but not heavy, read of the weekend, and with its extensive themes, I’m sure readers from all walks of life will find something to call their own in its pages.
Ginny Dunnill is the Community Services Librarian at the Brighouse Branch of the Richmond Public Library. For more great reads, visit www.yourlibrary.ca.