“Sea of Tranquility” was released on April 5 and is Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel that is part time travel, part speculative fiction, and part mystery that asks: how do we handle knowing our lives might be an illusion?
Switching between multiple perspectives, the novel begins in 1912, with Edwin St. John St. Andrew exiled from his home in England following an unfortunate dinner party. He sails across the Atlantic by steamship and winds up in the fictional settlement of Caiette, where he experiences something in the woods so incomprehensible, he believes he imagined it: “He has an impression of being in some vast interior…there are notes of violin music, there are other people around him, and then an incomprehensible sound.”
More than a century later, we meet Mirella, a woman who wants to reconnect with her former friend, Vincent, because she believes she has knowledge of a Ponzi scheme that left her in financial ruin and her husband deceased. Attending a concert hosted by Vincent’s brother, she witnesses a clip of a thirteen-year-old Vincent in the summer of 1994 that shows the same thing Edwin experienced years prior in the same woods.
Olive Llewellyn, a resident of the second moon colony, is an author touring on earth in 2203 following the release of her book, “Marienbad,” a post-apocalyptic novel about a pandemic. In her novel, she writes of a character experiencing “a fleeting hallucination of forest, fresh air, trees rising around him, a summer’s day.”
In 2401, Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a security officer of the Grand Luna hotel on the first moon colony, is hired by the Time Institute to investigate these strange occurrences, anomalies, or potential glitches in time. He travels back and forth in space and time, interviewing and interacting with those who experienced these unnatural events. Throughout his travels, he grapples with the fragility of human life—questions about humanity and responsibility arise that threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.
“Sea of Tranquility” was not great until the end. The beginning started slow and did not gain momentum until halfway through the novel when it became genuinely interesting. Despite some parts being slow for me, Mandel's writing is incredibly fluid and gripping and never failed to keep me reading.
While I love a book that has interwoven plotlines and multiple narrative perspectives, the switch between times felt rushed at parts. For the first time, I wanted the book to be longer so the reader could spend more time with the characters to fully understand their motivations. The ending was extremely satisfying and felt complete, even if the rest of the novel did not.
The exploration of simulation versus reality, technology, loss, sickness, belonging, and love was impactful despite the short novel length.
I would recommend “Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel and rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars.