I was browsing a bookstore in Lunenburg while vacationing in Canada when I ran across Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. I had previously read Station Eleven by her, and though it was well-written, it wasn’t my favorite because of its focus on living in a pandemic.
However, the draw of reading a book that begins in Canada while I was there visiting was enough to get me to buy this time travel novel. I am glad I gave this one a chance.
Sea of Tranquility has an intriguing premise, exploring time travel through several connected stories across several centuries. It does not get into a lot of the technical aspects of how time travel works. In fact, for the first half of the book, time travel is in the background, not directly mentioned at all.
The prose in most of the book is fleeting and floaty, making you feel as if you are observing the characters and their actions through a veil. The book takes a minimalist approach to character development but there’s just enough detail and backstory for you to feel you know and understand them.
“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorienting. The pandemic is far away and then it’s all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.”Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mendel
I thought the book made interesting observations about the nature of a pandemic and the inconsistent ways humans behave. Although living in a pandemic is referenced, this book doesn’t focus on a pandemic the same way that Station Eleven does. Both books have a similar ethereal feel as you read.
I seem to be in the minority, but I liked Sea of Tranquility better than Station Eleven. The commentary on bureaucracy, ethics, and human connection made me think and made me feel something, which is what ultimately earns it a five-star rating.