Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility is (ultimately) a fairly conventional story of time travel, elevated by Emily St. John Mandel’s sculptured prose (which is as insistently readable as Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel) and its relationship to those preceding books. 

In Sea of Tranquility an identical, unfathomable experience links characters who live centuries apart. The first to encounter the anomaly is Edwin St. Andrew in 1912, who is walking in the forest in Caiette (a fictional locale that featured in The Glass Hotel) when he hears haunting violin music playing alongside an unexplainable tumult. The same occurrence happens to others in the future, stretching as far as the 23rd century; and it is in the year 2401 that a renegade agent of the Time Institute embarks on an investigation into this incongruity in the space time continuum.

Mandel’s storytelling is economical but somehow grandiose. For its (relatively) short page count (when you consider the expansiveness of the story), Sea of Tranquility is widely populated; the characters are sketched crisply, but they’re textured. The whole thing is so impeccably crafted from a plot perspective ― but for a novel about time travel, it is Mandel’s virtuosic ability to delve beyond the fantastical and explore different times, locations and people with dry-eyed poignancy that leaves an indelible mark. I love that I never quite know what to expect from Mandel; only the quality of her writing is assured.

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