Review: Emily St. John Mandel, “Sea of Tranquility”

Emily St. John Mandel - Sea of Tranquility

At the outset, I must admit that this book stretched me a bit.  I’m not normally a fan of speculative fiction (although I read sci-fi, curiously enough) and Sea of Tranquility just crosses the line into that genre.  That being said, I ultimately found myself enjoying it more than I’d frankly expected.

A number of characters dot the landscape of the book: Edwin St. Andrew, a young British man who ventures to British Columbia in 1912 after a family dust-up; Olive Llewellyn, a 23rd-century writer on a book tour; and Gaspery Roberts, a 25th-century hotel security guard who ends up with a rather different job altogether.  What strikes me about Mandel’s depiction of her characters is how very much they have in common across the centuries – how, in spite of the march of time and the advancement of technology (and whether they live on Earth or not), they still wrestle with the same questions and encounter the same challenges as we do now. 

Emily St. John Mandel

At any given time in our lives, any moment, any decision can reveal itself later as the touchstone on which so much ultimately depended in the end.  Sometimes we recognize those moments when they happen, but often we do not.  This is at least one of the issues Mandel is exploring in her novel.  The book also asks this: even when we are warned not to make a choice based on our shared experience of humanity, when we arrive at that moment can we truly choose against it?

At 255 pages, the novel is a quick read, but its spareness is deceptive.  No word is wasted; Mandel cuts to the heart of her story with precision.  Even if, like me, you think you might not enjoy a story based in part far in the future, I encourage you to give this a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Published: 5 April 2022
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada

Photo Credit: JiaHao Peng

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Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.

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