This month I review Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility. According to the description, this book is “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.”
Mandel wrote one of my favorite books Station Eleven, so I was looking forward to reading this one.
Sea of Tranquility is constructed similarly to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in that every section is an independent story which takes place in a different era. Later, the reader discovers how the sections fit together when a minor character mentioned throughout the book becomes the main character.
What I liked about Sea of Tranquility
The writing is just as beautiful as in Mandel’s books Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. The descriptions are poetic without being overly wordy and the settings and characters are easy to picture. Mandel brings in characters from the other two books, characters that are fun to revisit, but you don’t need to read those books to understand this one.
I liked the variety of settings, particularly a moon colony and its simulated sky. Due to lack of energy and funding, the simulation goes out and people live in darkness. It was interesting to see how this affected them.
There were several lines I particularly liked, but being a writer, this one was one of my favorites:
“You write a book with a fictional tattoo and then the tattoo becomes real in the world and after that almost anything seems possible. She’d seen five of those tattoos, but that didn’t make it less extraordinary, seeing the way fiction can bleed into the world and leave a mark on someone’s skin.”
Maybe someday I’ll come across someone marked with my words.
Issues I had with the book
Because it’s not evident who the lead character is until late in the book, I found it hard to know who to root for. He’s so quietly mentioned in the previous sections, that it took me a while to remember who he was, but I wasn’t interested enough to want to go back and read the whole book over again like I was with Station Eleven.
Semi-spoiler alert — this book challenges what we mean by reality much in the way “The Matrix” does. This was my favorite part of the book. However, it wasn’t as well developed as it could have been and I felt Mandel raised the question of what is reality and then simply dismissed it. This was disappointing.
I wanted more (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)
I wanted to know more about the protagonist’s sister, Zoey, who works for a corporation of time travelers. My guess is she’ll come up in future books.
How this book has affected my writing
Like Mandel, I like to tackle interesting ideas and issues in my books. In Sea of Tranquility, Mandel questions what is reality, but then dismisses it in one or two sentences. This was very frustrating for me as a reader. I’ll do my best not to do the same thing in my stories.
I give Sea of Tranquility 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 for intriguing settings and beautiful writing.
Next month’s books:
Next month, I’ll revisit ten of my favorite books just in time for the holidays!
My latest article for the Chicago Writers Association is “Creating Unforgettable Characters.” It’s based upon a workshop I’ll be giving at the Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference in Chicago the weekend of March 25-26, 2023. Hope to see you there!
What’s happening this month:
I received comments from my editor Tim Storm and my daughter Caitlin on The Devil Particle and have more revisions to make. Tim and I agreed that the bulk of the work has to be done on the first 10 chapters, so I hope to revise them and get them to him as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, my cover designer, Patrick Knowles, and I have been working on the cover for The Vessel – Book Two in The Devil Particle Series. Stay tuned for a cover reveal!