... luminous ... In Sea of Tranquility, Mandel offers one of her finest novels and one of her most satisfying forays into the arena of speculative fiction yet, but it is her ability to convincingly inhabit the ordinary, and her ability to project a sustaining acknowledgment of beauty, that sets the novel apart. As in Ishiguro, this is not born of some cheap, made-for-television, faux-emotional gimmick or mechanism, but of empathy and hard-won understanding, beautifully built into language ... It is that aspect of Sea of Tranquility, Mandel’s finely rendered, characteristically understated descriptions of the old-growth forests her characters walk through, the domed moon colonies some of them call home, the robot-tended fields they gaze over or the whooshing airship liftoff sound they hear even in their dreams, that will, for this reader at least, linger longest.
... a tale of retrospects, of foresights, of the same moment layered on top of itself like repeated musical notes and of quotes that echo across time. Unlike Station Eleven, this book could not have been written before our particular pandemic. But while Sea of Tranquility both reflects our current crisis and revisits moments and characters from Mandel's preceding two books, it also demonstrates a creative leap for the author: It's the most explicitly science-fictional of her works, exploring time travel by way of a lunar colony in 2401. Despite this conceit wearing thin in parts, the prose never stutters ... Clearly drawn from real life, Sea of Tranquility never feels too self-indulgent. Mandel demonstrates yet again her talent for balancing an ensemble cast, with even the briefest of interludes making each character sympathetic and memorable, like strangers encountered at a party even if never seen again. This is especially impressive considering the main players exist in separate centuries, yet their respective troubles are relatable despite the differences in circumstance ... The lunar colonies do suffer slightly from some spotty worldbuilding; Mandel establishes fascinating details about the socioeconomic divide concerning who grows up on literally the dark side of the moon, yet the colonies arrive so fully formed that their background feels incomplete ... Where Mandel succeeds is in reminding us that even the most life-changing, seemingly unique moments will eventually repeat themselves ... Readers may be split on whether Station Eleven was too much to read during this point in history, but Sea of Tranquility provides a strange comfort ... what a treat to witness the inner workings of a celebrated author and especially this ambitious experimentation during a period in which we were all bouncing off the walls — in this case, seeing what sticks.
It’s a curious thought experiment ... an elegant demonstration of Mandel’s facility with a range of tones and historical periods ... Mandel delivers [a] futuristic section with an impish blend of wit and dread ... All these various stories are finely constructed, but they gather force only during the novel’s time-traveling second half set in the year 2401. Mandel moves lightly across this distant era. A world utterly transformed is merely implied by allusions to China’s primacy and various independent regions of the United States. Rather than clutter the pages with technological advances and gee-whiz gadgets, Sea of Tranquility concentrates on the psychological implications of living in domed colonies on the surface of the moon. This is science fiction that keeps its science largely in abeyance, as dark matter for a story about loneliness, grief and finding purpose ... it’s a chance to re-experience the thrill of Sophie’s World, to wrestle with the mind-blowing possibility that what is may be entirely different from what we see.
Mandel knows how to brew a story. As Edwin, Gaspery and other people scattered across time...all experience similar visions, we settle in for a juicy sci-fi ride, replete with time travel, lunar colonies and robot landscapers. But Mandel is less concerned with the mechanics of science fiction than with using its tropes to chart new courses through human relationships and their consequences ... The book jumps across time with impunity, following an internal map that will make exquisite sense at the end and only at the end ... That’s a small quibble to make of a novel that is pure pleasure to read ... Following a superb stylist like Mandel is like watching an expert lacemaker at work: You see the strands and later the beautiful results, but your eyes simply cannot follow what comes in between.
Mandel writes our own pandemic: the panic, the lockdown, the constant sirens, technology exhaustion, the shifting and rethinking of personal and career priorities. There are beautiful moments in this section between Olive and her young daughter that are some of the most compelling in the book and this is part of what makes Mandel such a masterful writer—the ability to bring our attention back to the importance of human intimacy, the small moments between individuals that make life bearable or even beautiful in the face of pandemic ... Our anxieties may not be relieved by the end of the novel, but there are no dropped threads and Gaspery-Jacques, through his many efforts, has shifted paths for the disparate mix of people whose lives were changed when they walked into the forest (or the terminal) one day ... A beautifully written, equal parts vast and intimate, quiet and thrilling contemplation on humanity, physics, time, and what it means to be alive.
The naturalism and specificity of its opening gives little idea of the strangeness to come ... Summary doesn’t do the book justice, but further exposition would, I think, spoil the novel for readers. Hugely ambitious in scope, yet also intimate and written with a graceful and beguiling fluency, Sea of Tranquility even invokes minor characters from another of Mandel’s previous novels, The Glass Hotel, as it gradually shows how all these incidents and people are part of one vast and fractured world ... Sea of Tranquility continues the good work done by Station Eleven in seducing new readers to speculative fiction. In fact, the book uses many more out-and-out science fiction conceits...but with a lightness of touch ... There’s something simultaneously fresh and old-fashioned in the novel’s comfort with omniscient narration, and its relaxed style that can swoop between the history of a lunar colony and the most intimate moments of a human life. It conveys the vertiginous sense of a reality that transcends a single existence and feels simultaneously poignant, celebratory and uncanny ... Sea of Tranquility reminds us that humanity’s resting state is crisis. Someone’s world is always ending: that is the keynote of this book. And the echoes and callbacks that give it its shape reflect the ways we make our own lives meaningful.
... smart, brisk and entertaining ... a full-on mind-blower. Inspired by real-world ills and eccentric philosophical theories, Mandel has crafted an enthralling narrative puzzle, plunging her relatable characters into a tale that spans five centuries ... Mandel alludes to global crises like climate degradation and life-consuming tech devices, but she doesn't quite offer us original ways to think about them. But she more than compensates for this shortcoming with a bracing set of story lines about virtual reality, time travel and the essence of human life itself ... Readers who enjoy some weirdness with their literary fiction are likely to become immersed in this deceptively poignant novel.
Known for her prescient, time-hopping books, the Canadian author is able to spin a decent yarn irrespective of era or genre ... The book’s insights resonate with contemporary times. St John Mandel easily holds her own in the company of fellow countrywoman Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson and David Mitchell. Sea of Tranquility is original and often revelatory. It is also hugely involving for readers ... Much of the pleasure is in making connections between the different worlds, which offers the satisfaction of a puzzle in novel form ... To summarise the plot could take the length of this review, but suffice to say that St John Mandel draws her characters and eras in quick, convincing strokes that delineate the realities of each ... The various connections through the eras bring cohesion to the time-hopping, as does a judicious mix of ingenious and real-world detail ... The scope of this ambitious novel encompasses war, art, pandemics, family, love, time travel and an eerily believable plotline ... As St John Mandel darts through the ages, past, present and future come together in wise soundbites ... The prose is plain, understated. There is the occasional arresting description ... Where the author excels is with structure: her graceful, fluid transitions move the reader across time and space, with frequent self-knowing flourishes that bring lightness to the serious themes. Her command of the narrative comes through in the ease with which she dispenses wisdom and in her succinct but effective characterisation. Her skill as a storyteller, meanwhile, is seen in the unlikely events and twists that surprise the reader, before seeming instantly inevitable.
... [a] restless, time-warping narrative that takes us farther from home—intellectually and geographically—than any of Ms. Mandel’s previous creations ever has. To a desolate place that is nonetheless intended to be humanity’s final refuge ... even the most ardent Mandel fan might well lose patience with—or even interest in—a drama that seems more like a dalliance at first, all peek-a-boo teases and insinuations ... if time can bend, we are prompted to wonder, might past events be altered? The fictional premise, while hardly original, is often fruitful ... The elements that distinguished Ms. Mandel’s previous fiction are certainly present here—the restrained compassion, the cockeyed humor, the trancelike beauty of an imagined world—but in a distilled form that, paradoxically, seems thin by comparison. Though there are still transcendent moments ... if 'mankind is a dream of a shadow,' as Pindar wrote and Ms. Mandel might agree, then these characters at least can disappear into thin air without entirely vanishing.
Mandel is an easy read and the structure of the story, broken up into bite-size chunks, makes all the jumping about feel relaxed. Also enjoyable is the fact that the different settings seem so contemporary. No matter where or when we touch down we feel at home in worlds much like our own, with the same family dynamics, obsessive relationships and professional crises. Which may be the point she’s getting at: we’re all, and will always be, part of a larger human story.
... full of grandeur, but without even a whiff of grandiosity. It’s transporting and brilliant and generous, and I haven’t ever read anything quite like it ... Sea of Tranquility uses its innovative narrative structure to generate new insights into how humans relate in the midst of disease and tragedy. This is a technique Mandel already practiced in Station Eleven, but this book doesn’t feel like a cynical retread. The storylines in Sea of Tranquility reference one another even as they call back to Mandel’s previous work, coming together to provide an abundance of moments in which individual characters believe that this, now, here, must be the worst moment in the history of the world.
In a few ways it is an unbearably trendy book ... There is a lot about pandemics ... None of this material surpasses the level of detail one might glean from Wikipedia; and as for emotional insight, there’s nothing beyond concern for loved ones and the fear of a premature and senseless death. Olive’s lockdown is an occasion for family time, reactive recreation and a few wistful memories of intercontinental book promotion. Not that the other people we meet in Sea of Tranquility are more interesting ... A section set in 2020 in the realm of New York City art film is superficial to the point of touristic. It’s no revelation that industry parties can be quite tedious. The future passages of Mandel’s novel are similarly underimagined ... a sign of a genre’s exhaustion.
... a discursive tale looped directly atop its predecessors, cutting them up and rearranging the pieces into a trippy, wistful story. If Mandel were a musician, it would be an album made from sampling earlier songs. The past isn’t just prologue, it’s the present and future, too ... This is a witty move on Mandel’s part. Writing her stand-in as such a through-and-through sweetheart practically commands readers to squint at Mandel’s storytelling intentions. Is she simply trying to immortalize a fictional version of herself as a nice person? ... Although Sea of Tranquility is set largely in the future and adorned with sci-fi flourishes, it raises old questions about how we can make meaning.
Readers of Mandel’s other novels will remember her talent for subtly interweaving disparate narratives, and Sea of Tranquility rises to that area of expertise. Mandel connects her characters both literally and figuratively—partly in a sci-fi mystery that unfolds across time, and also through their humanity in common themes of life, sickness, death, travel, art, and ultimately wondering what it’s all for ... Mandel masterfully connects characters’ observations and senses within any given moment. When someone leaves, they fade into the twilight. In a moment of horror, the air is cold. Mandel’s descriptions conjure both realism and poetry, especially when parts of the novel speak directly to her modern readers’ experience of the pandemic ... Fans of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel are sure to love Sea of Tranquility, not only because of the familiar characters and elements of story that appear in this new novel. It feels like a natural continuation or revisiting of ideas in Station Eleven, certainly, now that all of Mandel’s readers have been through a pandemic firsthand. Sea of Tranquility is also for anyone who wants to think about what the end of the world means, and how our lives matter in the face of it.
Mandel fans will relish the reappearance of characters from previous novels, including Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel: she likes to get value from her creations. But Sea of Tranquility stands on its own, either as an entertaining introduction to sci-fi for those normally averse to the genre or as an original way to reminisce about living through our own pandemic.
... a dazzling philosophical mystery about mental health and human connection ... Mandel's depth of characterization and breadth of social commentary will, once again, attract those who don't normally read sci-fi. How does she do it? One intricate, compulsively readable hit after another.
As always, Mandel fans will find much to love in this novel. Her writing is spare and intelligent, poetic without being overwrought ... The answer that the book provides is simple and satisfying, no tricks, just the right information revealed at the right time ... Sea of Tranquility is an escape room of a book: a whodunnit, in a way, with one clear right answer. In that way, despite its plotlines about time travel, moon colonies, and airship terminals, it feels like a throwback to Mandel’s earlier work. It’s a simpler book, a neater book, than the two that preceded it. Written in Mandel’s past and ours, intertwining imagined past, present and future timelines, it somehow bears us deeper into the past and not the future. Time travel, after all, works in both directions.
It yields its moral readily ... The plot unfolds with a sedate inevitability ... Mandel ties up every loose end. There is no pure coincidence, only design waiting to be disclosed ... If Sea of Tranquility gives off the slightly chilly air of a controlled lab experiment, Station Eleven teemed with enough life that you could forget its underlying artifice ... Sea of Tranquility’s temporal hijinks feel noncommittal. The novel’s dominating aesthetic is supremely orderly, its chapters arranged with appealing symmetry ... Mandel doesn’t risk the kludge of ornate world-building; she sketches out the setting and her characters with minimal lines. But as a result, their choices seem to emerge from the requirements of the plot, not from the murk of psychology. The spareness of the prose, then, works against its animating principle: Even as Sea of Tranquility argues for the weight of experience, it leaves you with the nagging suspicion that the interior life of a hologram might be hollow.
In unspooling the stories of Edwin, Mirella, Olive, and the stranger, Sea of Tranquility explores what constitutes reality, how time flows, and what memory is in the context of perception. The answers given aren’t the end of the debate but the continuation of the conversation. It makes for a mesmerizing novel that is both hard to put down and impossible to stop thinking about.
... lovely, life-affirming, and occasionally but unmistakably clumsy ... Mandel’s prose is shot through with moments of unexpected lyricism that seem to mirror this project, that take you by surprise with their limpid sweetness ... The loveliness of Mandel’s sentences, though, stands in jarring contrast to the clumsiness of her plotting. The different sections of this novel are linked by a time travel mystery, and the mystery’s resolution, which forms the emotional fulcrum of this novel, is so pat and clichéd that if I were to describe even just the setup in this review, you would know immediately how it all worked out ... Still, it’s also true that Mandel really is extremely good at writing prose. And the larger project of Sea of Tranquility feels, in the long and fraught ebb of the pandemic, both nourishing and needed. The world is always ending, this book says, and there is always beauty to be found in it.
The journey to the conclusion is a relatively easy read, despite the lofty themes. The chapters are short and while some are head-scratching, you keep going and trust that the puzzle pieces will click into place. As in her other novels, St. John Mandel paints quick scenes with her characters, then moves on to something else ... It’s a real trip, and one worth taking.
In unspooling the stories of Edwin, Mirella, Olive, and the stranger, Sea of Tranquility explores what constitutes reality, how time flows, and what memory is in the context of perception. The answers given aren’t the end of the debate but the continuation of the conversation. It makes for a mesmerizing novel that is both hard to put down and impossible to stop thinking about
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 will not prepare you for the transcendent ideas and feelings you are about to take away from this book ... 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.
... confirms that Mandel has also been building a fictional multiverse, cross-pollinating her novels with shared characters and overlapping events ... It sounds dizzying, but Mandel is a precise and focused storyteller. She doesn’t over-explain her futuristic settings; her descriptions are evocative rather than technical ... At fewer than 300 pages, the story moves quickly, propelled by Mandel’s understated prose toward a surprisingly tidy resolution ... a profound meditation on what it means to live through a disaster, itself a reminder of the random events that shape our lives and how, through our choices, we imbue them with meaning.
Mastering that sort of layered storytelling is something that most writers – including some tremendously gifted ones – never quite manage. But when that mastery is achieved, the resulting work can etch itself upon your mind and upon your heart ... Emily St. John Mandel has achieved that mastery ... Her new novel is Sea of Tranquility a beautiful and complex tale of creativity and love spread across centuries. Marrying the power of familial bonds with the passage of time, bound together through the rippling reflections cast by the motion of generations, it is a book that ensnares the imagination and buoys the reader forward into the known unknown ... Sea of Tranquility is a delicate web of interconnectedness, a story whose many threads are woven together so subtly and smoothly that the reader almost doesn’t realize it is happening until the knots are complete. Each piece of the story, separated by time and space, is compelling in its own right, but it is only when we see the points of contact that we truly understand the intricacy of what Mandel has made for us ... Telling stories across multiple timelines has become something of a trope in recent years. In the hands of lesser writers, it can be something of a crutch, a way to prop up stories that might not stand strongly on their own. But when a master like Mandel goes to work, we get something that is far more than the sum of its parts, where the pieces are welded together with a gentle fire and reinforced into something stronger ... One of the joys of reading Mandel is her ability to evoke a sense of place ... Sea of Tranquility is a work of complex simplicity, if that makes sense. It is constructed in a detailed and deliberate way, worlds built atop worlds, yet the central themes are straightforward.
Not to say that Sea of Tranquility doesn’t stand on its own; it does. But knowing some of its context...sharpens this into a deeper and perhaps more personal novel ... This isn’t to say that each section of the novel is successful in equal measure. Your mileage may vary depending on your disposition towards science fiction or historical fiction, and your patience with the author; if you are looking for a novel deeply focused on its central mystery, you might need to look elsewhere. Did I consider Edwin’s journey a little meandering, or Olive’s life at the dawn of a pandemic as the work of an author too prone to navel-gazing? If I’m honest, I have to say yes ... Where the novel truly shines is in those moments where modernity becomes antiquity, where future becomes nostalgia.
Highly readable, quite short and told in Mandel’s customary delightful style, it’s full of compelling ideas, but addresses them too cursorily ... You find yourself, sometimes, wanting the more robust underpinnings of her previous novels. And, although it contains beautiful, hopeful passages, the novel has a rather fragmentary, shallow feel, perhaps because the leaps occasioned by time travel don’t allow for fully fleshed-out characters.
However 'reality' is defined, in Mandel’s novels acts of compassion, courage and creativity speak louder than words. These traits remain lifelines amidst the flux of existence ... Gaspery’s empathetic acts in the face of bureaucratic indifference change lives for the better – a timeless message, of course, but also a timely one.
I really enjoyed, was moved by, and was intrigued by the puzzle of Emily St John Mandel’s new novel, Sea Of Tranquillity. There is, however, a slight niggle. I admired both Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, so much so that I bought her back list and thoroughly enjoyed them as well. But the question that wormed away at me is how much was my enjoyment of this book dependent upon having read the previous ones? I think – other opinions are no doubt available – that is possible to read it as a standalone novel; but I know that having read the other books made this a richer and deeper experience ... That it does tie things up with panache and elegance is a joy.
Although readers may question the particulars of the novel’s depiction of the future (wouldn’t the concept of a book tour be impossibly quaint, or even unknown, by 2203?), Mandel’s character development will sweep them along. Turn-of-the-century character Edwin’s sections are particularly well rendered ... Mandel’s prose is beautiful but unfussy; some chapters are compressed into a few poetic lines. The story moves quickly, the suspense building not only from the questions about that one strange moment but also from the actions of those investigating it. In the end, the novel’s interlocking plot resolves beautifully, making for a humane and moving time-travel story, as well as a meditation on loneliness and love.
Taken together, [Mandel's] novels outline an intriguing tapestry exploring the interaction of history and identity, linked across several centuries. Taken individually...each is a compelling and very readable examination of complex characters trying to make sense of their worlds, their pasts, and their dreams. Mandel may seem a bit more comfortable in the relatively familiar Canada of 1912 than in those remote futures, but her characters never fail to fascinate, and her prose can be absolutely pristine.
Mandel spins a gripping and beautiful narrative that speaks to how we are all interconnected in great and small ways. With more than a few discoveries related to her previous novels, this will be a delight for longtime Mandel readers; but those new to her work won’t find themselves lost by any means, except in the sense that all readers will be subsumed by this gorgeously rendered, deeply intimate, conceptually rich, and affecting tale.
Initially taking on an unsettled shape of a mystery replete with myriad narrative ellipses, the narrative eventually slows its pace to fill in its early narrative shading settling into the perspective of Gaspery-Jacques Roberts ... While its littered enigmas and savvy narrative structure make for effortless reading, both the worldbuilding and Roberts are given short shrift ... A distinctly slight work from Mandel, one that is very much enjoyable on its own terms and nails its tonal progression but has too soft a center to hold up to much scrutiny.
Stunning ... The novel’s narratives crystallize flawlessly. Brilliantly combining imagery from science fiction and the current pandemic, Mandel grounds her rich metaphysical speculation in small, beautifully observed human moments. By turns playful, tragic, and tender, this should not be missed.
A complicated and mysterious puzzle concerning the nature of reality solved perfectly, all loose ends connected ... Some of the scenes involving life in 25th-century pandemic quarantine are quite recognizable; this novel is futuristic without being all that dystopian. Perhaps our expectations have changed ... Even more boldly imagined than Station Eleven. Exciting to read, relevant, and satisfying.