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#TuesdayBookBlog Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel (@picadorbooks) (@EmilyMandel) Pandemics, time travel, and gorgeous writing #sci-fi

Hi all:

I am back, and I have a few books to share. This one is by an author I have come to truly treasure. Oh, and it will be published on the 28th of April, so not long to wait.

Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel 

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five 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 best-selling 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 black-skied 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.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

https://www.amazon.com/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel/dp/0593556593/

https://www.amazon.es/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

Author Emily St. John Mandel

About the author:

EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL is the author of six novels, including Sea of Tranquility, The Glass Hotel, and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her work has been translated into thirty-two languages. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

https://www.amazon.com/Emily-St-John-Mandel/e/B002BMMGK2/

My review:

I thank Pan Macmillan/Picador and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered Emily St. John Mandel eight years ago thanks to Station Eleven, which I loved, and I was also very impressed by The Glass Hotel, so I had great expectations for this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although it is not necessary to have read the other two novels mentioned to enjoy this one, there are characters and points of commonality between the three, and the way the story is structured (or rather fragmented and then put together, creating interesting and beautiful shapes) is also similar, with jumps back and forth in time (several centuries here), and, in this case, centred on a popular subgenre of science-fiction, time travel.

I don’t read science-fiction often, although I have read some novels in the genre that I’ve enjoyed. This novel is not hard science-fiction. There isn’t a lot of attention paid to how things work and the complex science behind it (the main character knows nothing about it and freely admits to it), nor long explanations and descriptions of the future settings we visit. There are several colonies on the Moon, and also further away, but although we get a feeling of how living there might be (because the characters experiencing it have always lived there, and we perceive things through their eyes. If anything, they are more intrigued by life on Earth than the other way round), there isn’t a deep analysis of every aspect of life in the future, and the mention of metaphysics in the description fits the when trying to describe this novel. It does ask some big questions, about what is important in life, about reality and simulation, about people sometimes living many lives and reinventing themselves, and about circumstances that can make us reconsider our reality, our priorities, and our sense of self.

Because I feel that the way the story is told and the plot are intrinsically linked, and it is difficult to talk about one without unravelling the other, I won’t even try. The blurb provides enough clues for readers to decide if they might want to investigate further. We get snippets of the lives of several characters, who have led completely different lives separated by centuries but are somehow linked. We have men, women, younger and older characters: a female writer famous for writing a dystopian novel set during a pandemic (sharing many similarities with St. John Mandel, in a fascinating exercise in metafiction); a young man exiled by his well-off family to Canada who goes on to fight in WWI; an old violinist who plays at an airport after losing his wife; a woman trying to find a friend whom she thought had betrayed her and discovering something truly disturbing; a listless man trying to find a job that will grip him and help him give meaning to his life… We get to see things from all those characters’ perspectives, narrated in the third person, sometimes in the present tense, but mostly in the past tense, but perhaps because of the fragmented nature of the narrative, and also because of the peculiarities of the characters (who seemed to all be preoccupied with analysing and observing what was happening around them, rather than fully experiencing and living their lives, at least at the beginning), I felt as if I was peering over their shoulders and being a spectator, although with privileged access to their thoughts as well. It wasn’t a problem for me, and as the novel progressed and the whole picture became clearer, I came to change the way I felt about some of the characters and to understand and appreciate them more. Being an avid reader, I really enjoyed the character of Olive Llewellyn, an author from the Moon on a book tour on Earth. The fact that her book has a lot in common with Station Eleven, and also the way her visit coincides with a pandemic on Earth, makes her feel particularly close to us and to our recent experiences, but, as I said, the rest of the characters grew on me, particularly Gaspery, who gains in complexity and interest, and I’m sure I won’t forget him in a hurry.

The author writes beautifully, combining brief and magical descriptions of locations, capturing awe-inducing moments in poetic language, and expressing complex ideas in simple but effective ways. This is a book where plot, characters, structure, and language live in perfect harmony, and despite the jumps in time and the moments of action, the overall tone is contemplative and reflexive. There are moments of telling, due to the nature of the story, but this does not detract from the atmosphere or the flow of the novel, and it does feel like a pretty short read that manages to pack quite a lot of meaning and thought into few pages. Despite the changes in time lineand point of view, the narration is always clearly signposted, and there is no risk of getting lost within its many worlds.

A few samples from the book (although there might have been changes prior to publication):

What if one were to dissolve into the wilderness like salt into water.

Olive here, thinking about the death of one of her characters in her novel, which one of the readers had described as “anticlimactic”:

 ... isn’t that reality? Won’t most of us die in fairly unclimactic ways, our passing unremarked by almost everyone, our deaths becoming plot points in the narratives of the people around us?

The thing with being away from her husband and daughter was that every hotel room was emptier than the one before.

What you have to understand is that bureaucracy is an organism, and the prime goal of every organism is self-protection. Bureaucracy exists to protect itself.

This is the strange lesson of living in a pandemic: life can be tranquil in the face of death.

I enjoyed the ending, and I can’t imagine a more satisfying one. There are twists and plenty of mysteries in the story, but things come together in the end. I am not sure if readers will find the ending surprising or not (it might depend on how much they read about time travel and how closely they follow the clues), but I enjoyed the sense of closure (for all the characters), and also the overall feeling of quiet, calm, and hope that its end brings. We might agree or disagree with the main character’s decisions, but I liked his attitude towards life and towards his fellow human beings.

Do I recommend this book? Definitely. I am sure fans of the author will enjoy it. Readers looking for a hard science-fiction novel or keen on a time travel narrative full of big adventures and thrilling moments might want to look elsewhere. But those who enjoy beautiful writing, don’t mind getting lost in speculation and allowing their minds to wander through a world of possibilities, should try this book. And if they haven’t read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel and enjoy this one, they shouldn’t hesitate and just keep reading St. John Mantel.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling.

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Book review Book reviews New books

#Bookreview #THEGLASSHOTEL: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel (@EmilyMandel) Beautifully constructed and a marvellous reading experience (@picadorbooks)

Hi all:

I bring you a book I love by an author I’ve read before and became an instant follower of. Somehow I thought I got a notification that the book was already published, but it won’t be out until March, or April, depending on where you live, but I wanted to share it now before it gets lost somewhere…

The Glass Hotel. A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel
The Glass Hotel. A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel

New York Times “20 Books We’re Watching For in 2020”

An Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Bustle, Buzzfeed, GoodReads, The Millions, Boston Globe, USA Today, and Women’s Day Most Anticipated Book

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven (“Ingenious.” – The New York Times), an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events-a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant’s. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

https://www.amazon.com/Glass-Hotel-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B07RL58ZDG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Glass-Hotel-Emily-John-Mandel/dp/1509882804/

https://www.amazon.es/Glass-Hotel-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B07RL58ZDG/

Author Emily St. John Mandel

About the author:

Emily St. John Mandel was born in Canada and studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She is the author of the novels Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, The Lola Quartet and Station Eleven and is a staff writer for The Millions. She is married and lives in New York.

https://www.amazon.com/Emily-St.-John-Mandel/e/B002BMMGK2

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Picador for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review. Having read St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven almost six years ago (you can read the review I wrote on another site here), I jumped at the opportunity to read this one. And although the story is quite different, I loved it as well.

Despite the differences between the two novels (Station Eleven was set around and after a virus pandemic that decimated the population and caused major changes to civilization), there are some commonalities. In her new novel, there is also a major event that although not as disastrous and all-encompassing as the pandemic, it has a devastating effect on the lives of all involved, from Jonathan Alkaitis (a character inspired by Bernard Madoff), to the people working at a hotel he owned, and even his receptionist. The collapse of his Ponzi scheme works as an axis around which the rest of the plot and the elements of the story spin, although it is far from evident how all the fragments fit in together when we start reading the novel.

The formal structure of the novel feels almost magical in its perfection. It begins with the end and yes… it ends going back to the beginning, but we get three parts, changes in time frames (always marked, so it does not cause confusion) from the 1950s up to the near future, many of the characters have “before” and “after” lives, and some even create imaginary lives to cope with their dire situation, so at times it seems as if it would be impossible to pull it all together, but the author manages, and it is a delight to follow the clues and be taken in, sometimes, quite unexpected directions. The book is not a thriller per se, but there are plenty of mysteries, lots of secrets, and unexplained events, and all the individual stories are more than interesting enough in their own right to keep us reading.

There are different voices and different narrators, almost as many as characters. Most of the chapters are narrated in the third person, but from only one of the characters point of view at a time, and although at first we don’t know how they are related to each other, there is no confusion as to who is thinking what or what story we are following. There are chapters in the first person, at the very beginning and at the very end of the novel, in a style reminiscent of stream of consciousness, and also chapters that correspond to the chorus of the employees working with Alkaitis in his fraudulent investment company, where we get information about several characters at once. There are many settings, but I think the island and the Glass Hotel of the title work particularly well and function as a focal point, as a hub where many of the players meet and take on paths that will mark their lives forever. The writing is beautiful, compelling, reflective, lyrical, multifaceted, evocative, and a joy to read.

As I mentioned before, the characters are all interesting, although perhaps Alkaitis and his story will sound more familiar than most of the rest. But even he has something that makes him human and easier to empathise with than readers would expect.  Like all the rest of the characters, he has doubts, human weaknesses, he is uncertain, he loved his brother and his first wife, and he lost them both. And he is loyal after his own fashion. All the characters, even those who have nothing in common with us, have frailties and emotions we easily recognise. We might not like them, but we do understand them and can easily put ourselves in their shoes. The description mentions a few of the characters, and there are many more, but I won’t go into too much detail, because as I’ve said, this is a book to be discovered and enjoyed slowly, as it unfolds as we read. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Vincent, a girl who experiences loss at a very early age and tries many different lives for size, but all the characters have moments of clarity, thoughts, or questions that have made me gasp, nod, or stop and think.

It’s been a long time since I read Station Eleven, but there are nudges towards it in this novel (there is a mention of a virus, and some of the characters of the previous book make brief appearances in this one), and there is no denying the similarities in the way the story is told and in the author’s style of writing. Perhaps the other book is open to a more hopeful and optimistic reading, while this one is more contemplative and personal, but I’d be hard pushed to choose a favourite (and I am convinced that I must reread Station Eleven again).

As usual, I’d recommend checking a sample of the book first, but readers must be aware that the beginning is written in quite a different style to the rest of the book, so keep reading. Ah, and there is a supernatural element in the story (I hesitate to call it magical realism, as it is very specific and it makes perfect sense), in case you’re wondering.

It’s particularly difficult to choose a few quotes, but I’ll try:

“You know what I’ve learned about money? I was trying to figure out why my life felt more or less the same in Singapore as it did in London, and that’s when I realized that money is its own country.”

“What kept her in the kingdom was the previously unimaginable condition of not having to think about money, because that’s what money gives you: the freedom to stop thinking about money. If you’ve never been without, then you won’t understand the profundity of this, how absolutely this changes your life.”

“If another memo could possibly be sent out, this one specific to smokers: You cannot be both an unwashed bohemian and Cary Grant. Your elegant cigarette moves are hopelessly undermined by your undershirt and your dirty hair. The combination is not particularly interesting.”

“It’s possible to both know and not know something.”

A great novel that looks at truth, reality, identity, the tales and lies we tell ourselves, the nature of memory, and makes us question our priorities. Beautifully written, structurally fascinating and full of engaging characters, I recommend it to lovers of literary fiction who don’t mind investing some time in a story and also, of course, to fans of the author.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!

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