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

This is the first book since Station Eleven that I’ve read from Emily St. John Mandel. I heard that there was moon people and time travel, so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m so thankful I did.

Here’s more about Sea of Tranquility

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 bestselling 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.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first started reading Sea of Tranquility. The description was kind of vague, but the reviews were inspiring, so I went into reading with an open mind. And I was wholeheartedly thanked for it.

This book blew me away in so many different ways. It’s definitely got its twists and turns and surprises that will go off like a light bulb in your head, but then you’re left with this deep cut of emotions as you navigate trying to live your life after reading this book. Trust me, all I can think about while I write this review is this book.

The story starts off with three different timelines. The first story is from the 20th century where a young man is journeying from England to Canada. The second story is from 2020 about a young woman searching for an old friend she hasn’t seen in years. The last story takes place in the 22nd century about an author who is recently on a book tour across Earth for her most famous novel. What connects all three people? Well, they were all at some point transported to a mysterious forest where they can hear a violin playing and an airship taking off.

That’s the point that really hooked me. I was a little confused by where the story was going with the lengthy description of the first character traveling across the ocean to Canada, but the moment he’s transported to that airship terminal and hears that violin is where it sucked me in entirely. It felt like Mandel purposefully designed the moment for her reader; to make you believe that at any given moment you can find yourself snapped into some random space in time and completely changed by the experience.

It’s currently what rookie investigator Gaspery Roberts is investigating; an anomaly in the timeline where three people from three time periods experience the same glitch in time. Gaspery is a new recruit at the Time Institute sometime in the year 2400. He volunteers to go back in time to investigate the three incidents and find connection between the people it affected.

This is the point in the story where I thought we might get another Blake Crouch science fiction thriller. It had all the factors of his style of writing and wondered how far Emily St. John Mandel may go, but because this is Emily St. John Mandel and not Blake Crouch, the story took a different turn creating a paradoxical Quantum Leap-style story. Gaspery’s journey across time made me hopeful about my future and the world around us.

And at the titular moment where you thought everything would be solved and the mystery would make sense, Mandel pivots again and surprised me with an ending that was both satisfying and enduring. One of the major themes is humanity and our unpredictable nature. How something that make the most sense takes a turn for us in the moment. How we’re all faced with many different paths and our choices may lead us down to a place of destruction or reincarnation. Gaspery’s journey is very much like the ones we experience in our daily lives. We my not be traveling through time to solve anomalies in the timeline, but we are making the choices that affect not only our own lives, but the lives of people around us. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and truly shares the silver lining in all of this.

It did surprise me that the book mentions, not one, but several pandemics. I think this might be my first pandemic story since 2020 and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. Of course, they were there in the background providing the setting of these events, but it wasn’t the main focus which I truly appreciated.

Overall, this book moved me and surprised me and made me feel things I’ve been hoping to feel after reading such an incredible book. It’s on par with authors like Haruki Murakami and Blake Crouch, but entirely unique like Mandel herself. I truly recommend this book to everyone.

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