Sea of Tranquility
Written by: Emily St. John Mandel
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
Those who have read Emily St. John Mandel’s previous novels know that she has a certain style. Like The Glass Hotel, and Station Eleven before it, Sea of Tranquility has an understated quality to it. It is slow to build while still being completely enthralling from first page to last. Sea of Tranquility is a time travel story at its basis, but it is also so much more. It is a story about the nature of reality, living true to yourself, and finding beauty even when your world is ending.
As in the last book I reviewed (How High We Go in the Dark), Sea of Tranquility’s first few chapters are mostly unconnected, featuring new characters and settings. But rather than any relationship or familial ties, what connects the characters in Mandel’s effort is a feeling, a place, and a sense of unease, shared across a timeline spanning nearly 500 years. The stories eventually knit together, and the final act is a headlong rush through time. Mandel’s prose is characteristically vivid without being overdone. There is a very cinematic feel. The novel does end somewhat abruptly, and at less than 300 pages, Sea of Tranquility is a quick read. But in terms of emotional complexity and connection, it has the volume of one twice its size.
What is real? Can I trust my own mind? Are we living in a simulation? Does it even matter? As the characters is Sea of Tranquility ask themselves these questions, the reader can’t help but ask themselves the same. This book has big ideas while also being incredibly accessible for a time travel story. Gorgeously realized and expertly paced, Mandel’s novel is an early candidate for one of the best books of 2022.