Thursday, July 14, 2022

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel


One of the few disadvantages of reading voraciously is analogous to eating a many-course gourmet meal: it's difficult to savor one because of the conflicting details. That's a small lingering regret after finishing Emily St. John Mandel's latest novel Sea of Tranquility. With so many--and such varied--books I have read this summer, I feel the need to sit with this one a little longer.

Like Trust by Hernan Diaz, which I discussed in an earlier post, this novel makes me envious of the writer's sheer ability to weave and order a story like this. With the many characters over centuries, the author plays with historical fiction, time travel, and the impact of technology. From 1912 to the 23rd century, from Europe to the  New World to the second colony on the moon, Emily St. John Mandel pulls together a shared paranormal experience, plagues, book tours, and avant-garde film, without dropping a single stitch.

I confess that although I read (and loved) The Glass Hotel, I completely missed that the character Vincent in Sea of Tranquility was a character in the earlier novel. Perhaps this is good justification for literature tests asking students to remember names, dates, and places. When Jennifer Egan pulled a similar sleight of hand in Candy House and when Stephen King planted little details from The Shining in Billy Summers, (and should I mention David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks?) I was gratified to recognize the connection. Somehow, though, I want to re-read--or at least review--the original novel.

I've seen people ask on reading sites whether it's important to read The Glass Hotel first; I'd say, no. Honestly, it might be interesting to read it second to see if personal literary time travel works just as well. If only my list of what to read next weren't so long, I might do just that.


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