BOOK REVIEW: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Sea of Tranquility

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Book Length: 5 hours and 47 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: June 17, 2022

Read Finish Date: June 19, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:

A novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

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 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.

My Review: I’m honestly not sure how to feel about this one. I checked it out from the library because it was written by the same author as Station Eleven (see my review here), which I liked. However, there are a lot of moving pieces in the story and at times it gets a little confusing. There are several smaller stories, which are part of the larger over arching story…but what this means essentially, is that the smaller stories don’t really get too much attention, while at the same time getting too much, if that makes sense.

So for example, the first part of the book is about the character Edwin from the early 1900’s. We get to learn a lot about his character, but in the grand scheme of things, Edwin himself, as a character isn’t all that important. Do we really need to know that Edwin is the son of an Earl who was exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party? Not really. What is important, is his role in the over arching story, i.e., that while in exile he happened to glimpse an anomaly in the time continuum. On the other hand, maybe we do need the background so that we know what Edwin was doing in the woods that fateful day. In this case, however, I would have liked to have more of the story behind the lesser characters themselves.

The book is short, less than 6 hours of listening time. Perhaps it could have benefitted from being longer.

Additionally, like Station Eleven, this book touches on the theme of pandemics. The character Olive Llewellyn is stuck in a lockdown for 100+ days — however, this storyline takes place in the 2100’s, so it’s not COVID-19. There is also mention of various other plagues e.g. Ebola 10 (a made up plague) and a passing reference to COVID-19. I didn’t feel exhausted by this like some other books that have COVID-19 as their central theme.

On the other hand, despite the above, the concept behind the book is intriguing. Time travel, the affect on the time line by such travel, etc. I just wish there had been more of this and less of the other things.

I only gave the book 3 stars, but that’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who absolutely loved the book and gave it 5 stars, for example Theresa Smith Writes.

All in all, I’d have to say it was an entertaining read that is definitely worth it if you have the time.

BOOK REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

20170404._SX318_SY475_Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours and 41 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: March 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

My Review: Although another book about a plague, it was far enough removed from COVID, that I wasn’t turned off. This book was published in 2014, but in 2022 was listed as one of the most popular books at the library, which is why I checked out an audiobook copy. I think the recent popularity of the book is due to the release of the limited television series on HBO Max. Unfortunately, in Austria I do not have access to this channel, so I am a little disappointed that I won’t be able to watch it.

One of the opening scenes in the book, a group of people gather at a bar. The author informs us that within three weeks, all of them would be dead. Not from COVID, or even a corona virus, but from a deadly strain of the flu. I loved the foreshadowing in this sentence.

This book reminded me a little bit of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (you can see my review of Cloud Cuckoo Land here), in that a book–in this case a graphic novel written and illustrated by Miranda, the first wife of the famous Hollywood actor referenced above–connects the stories of several of the main characters.

In general I liked the story, the writing was great, and the overall premise was intriguing. However, the reason why I couldn’t give it 5 stars, was that it fell flat for me in several places. For example, I would have liked more background into the prophet and his community. Secondly, the book takes places almost 15 years after the plague wiped everyone out, but it still felt like the plague had just happened. There are huge unexplained gaps between pre-plague and 15 years on in the stories of the characters. What happened in the middle? Why was civilization still fractured? Was no one left alive that could figure out how to turn the power back on?

Additionally, we the readers know the connection between the characters, but the characters themselves seem to have missed it, which was a little disappointing.

In any event, all in all its a great book and I would recommend it.