'Sea of Tranquility' is another masterpiece by Emily St. John Mandel (author of Station Eleven), a joyful short novel which blends four stories from different time periods after three people all experience a moment from ‘elsewhere in time.’
- best book club reads -
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
BY EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL
We read and reviewed the brilliant “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel back in 2021 (see our library). The story was about the effects of a devastating pandemic before Covid. 'Sea of Tranquility' is another masterpiece by Mandel, a joyful short novel which blends four stories from different time periods after three people all experience a moment from ‘elsewhere in time’. Mandel imagines time travel and a future when humans inhabit moon colonies, travelling on commercial airbuses to and from earth. But is this the future, or is it just time simulation?
The story begins is 1912 when Edwin St. John St. Andrew, an entitled aristocrat (and yes, he is a descendant from the author’s own family) arrives from England in the Canadian Wilderness believing the country is there for the taking. One day he witnesses a dissociated moment in the forest which he cannot fathom and is deeply disturbed by. Also present is a priest, Gaspery Roberts whom Edwin believes witnesses the same event but can not be traced. The reader is then transported to February 2022 and Mirella (a character from St. John Mandel’s 'The Glass House') arrives in New York in search of her lost friend and photographer Vincent. Mirella meets Vincent’s brother Paul who, by chance, is in the company of Gaspery Roberts. Gaspery is enquiring about a peculiar piece of footage made by Vincent in which her film is unexpectedly interrupted by a strange anomaly of a forest path before it goes black accompanied by the sound of a violin.
Then time leaps to forward to 2203 and famed author Olive Llewellyn leaves her husband and daughter on the 2nd moon colony to undertake an epic book tour on earth just as an unknown pandemic is arriving. The reader is then transported to the Time Institute in 2401 in which brother and sister, Zoey and Gaspery Roberts (who we now learn was named after a detective in Olive’s bestselling book), have noticed these anomalies and set about trying to investigate them by travelling in time to the place of their occurrence, the condition being they must not try and change the course of events knowing the outcome as they do.
This storyline may sound confusing, but in Mandel’s hands it isn’t – she wonderfully merges the unimaginable possibility of time travel, layered with the possibility of simulation hypothesis and makes it imaginable. She develops her characters so you connect with them and their everyday routine of normal relationships and family love. Then she raises the question, is the world always ending and a new world beginning? What makes a world real? And even if we do live in a simulation hypothesis, does it matter if it still feels real. Are our current day cities any different from living in a moon colony with an artificial dome? When Mandel’s characters long to gaze at the fields worked by robots and the sky filled with airships you believe it is real.
There is so much to reflect on and discuss in this book – it was a top hit in our book club and an ingenious piece of storytelling.