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Sea of Tranquility


Sea of Tranquility

The unbridled approach that Emily St. John Mandel brings to SEA OF TRANQUILITY raises it to the status of an instant classic. Reading her prior novels, STATION ELEVEN and THE GLASS HOTEL, will not prepare you for the transcendent ideas and feelings you are about to take away from this book. I envy you your journey.

In 1912, 18-year-old Edwin St. John St. Andrew, he of the double-sainted surname, has been sent into exile from England to Canada via a steamship. His ancestors include the great William the Conqueror, yet there was nothing for him back in England. After six months in a very agreeable boarding house, Edwin takes off with fellow resident Reginald to work on a farmhouse.

Edwin continues on his own path, wandering away and finding himself in the company of a friend of his brother’s. He searches for scenes of beauty, whether they be beaches or forests. He runs into a priest from a church at Caiette who introduces himself as Roberts. As they walk through the brush together, everything suddenly goes dark, and Edwin feels like he is in a train station or cathedral. Notes of a violin rise around him, followed by a sudden incomprehensible sound.

"The finale of SEA OF TRANQUILITY is so beautifully plotted and planned out that it will send chills down your spine one minute and have you near tears the next."

2020 finds composer Paul Smith showing a video that his late sister, Vincent, had taken, featuring a technical anomaly recorded outside under a giant maple tree. It sounds like a few notes of a violin, the dim cacophony of the interior of a train station, and a strange whooshing sound indicating some form of hydraulic pressure. In the front row is Mirella Kessler, who is in tears; she had been Vincent's best friend. At some point not long after that, Mirella is questioned by a man named Gaspery-Jacques Roberts about Vincent, and she has the weirdest feeling of déjà vu when looking at him. It slowly comes back to her; she swears that as a child she saw him under an overpass getting handcuffed for something he had done. But he looks exactly the same. How could that be possible?

2203 finds author Olive Llewellyn visiting Earth for what will be her final book tour. Her novel is Marienbad, and she and her publicist, Aretta, are planning to promote it everywhere. Ironically, the book is about a pandemic. Little does Olive know that just a few weeks later, a deadly virus will wreak havoc on the world's population. She desperately misses her husband and daughter, who are at home off planet. Nearing the end of the tour, she finds herself being followed by a man in a dark suit. He soon introduces himself as Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a journalist for Contingencies Magazine, and he wants to do an interview with her. Olive has no idea that this will be the last one she will ever do.

2401 finds us on the first moon colony near the Sea of Tranquility, right by the spot where Apollo 11 landed. It is here where Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is beginning his job as hotel security and working with Talia, a woman he had gone to school with as a child. Six months into his new role, Gaspery connects with his sister Zoey, a physicist at the university, as they meet for her birthday. They reminisce about many things, including their mother’s all-time favorite novel, Marienbad. Gaspery picks it up and begins reading from a random point --- a very telling passage about the onset of the pandemic, which is what ended up killing the author.

Gaspery then comes across something else at Zoey’s place, a letter written in cursive from the year 1912 by a man named Edwin discussing a strange event that happened to him in the forest. Zoey then explains that the work she has been doing involves time travel, and she proposes a serious thought to him: “If moments from different centuries are bleeding into one another, then, well, one way you could think of those moments, Gaspery, is you could think of them as corrupted files.” Gaspery wants to know more about her work with the Time Institute, but Zoey won’t tell him.

Eventually, Gaspery approaches others in the Time Institute, pleading his case and his schooling (plus his investigative background) in an effort to work with them. He gets selected and goes through extensive training, much to Zoey’s chagrin, for she merely wants to protect her brother. When his training is done, he is chipped and prepped to be sent back to different points in time to discover the anomaly to which Zoey had referred. This will involve interviewing Olive Llewellyn during the end of her book tour prior to the last days of her life, as well as that day in the forest when Edwin and Vincent were present for the audio phenomenon. Let’s just say, despite all his training and warnings not to mess with the timeline, Gaspery will find it difficult not to interfere --- and the rest is, literally, potential new history.

The finale of SEA OF TRANQUILITY is so beautifully plotted and planned out that it will send chills down your spine one minute and have you near tears the next. Emily St. John Mandel has created a masterpiece; it is not the best book she has written, but it is the book that we deserve and need right now. It will sink deep into your psyche and threaten to haunt your thoughts and dreams endlessly. The images and ideas will also ease your mind during a moment in time when mankind has far more questions than answers, and great literature can continue to be the panacea to the masses that it has always been.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 8, 2022

Sea of Tranquility
by Emily St. John Mandel