The Sea of Tranquility, Emily St John Mandel
April 5, 2022 7:41 PM - Subscribe

The new novel from Emily St John Mandel. From Goodreads: "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 three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space."
posted by jokeefe (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am eager to hear other thoughts on this book, which I finished this afternoon, the day of its release. I'm a huge admirer of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and was really anticipating how she was going to move her characters through space and time. After reading, I found it slight (oh, how slight) and the final working out of the time travel conceit stale, as if her reading of science fiction had been very limited. There was a lot to enjoy in a sort of para-authorial auto-fiction way, but the pleasure wasn't lasting. Anyone else?
posted by jokeefe at 7:50 PM on April 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I am SO excited to read this—I loved Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. I am on the wait list for TSoT at the library, and I'm not sure when I’ll get it, but I am also curious to hear what others think. (I’m a little apprehensive now after reading your comment, jokeefe, but maybe that’s good because it’ll keep my expectations in check.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:40 PM on April 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just another quick thought, which I don't think counts as a spoiler. Mirella, from The Glass Hotel (Vincent's friend from her days as Jonathan Alkaitas's wife) appears in one section where she thinks about Vincent, and how wrong it was that Vincent died while Alkaitas "lived out his life in a hotel in Dubai". But he didn't-- in The Glass Hotel, Alkaitas died in prison, albeit while deeply engaged in fantasies of living in a luxury hotel, fantasies that eventually obscured the reality of his incarcerated life. In Sea of Tranquility, does Alkaitas's fantasy life become reality in a way that implies that SoT is in a different timeline, or is set in a slightly different world? I also wonder about the repeated idea of the simulation hypothesis which the characters discuss-- of course they are in a simulation--they are inside a novel. Given that parts of the book are written directly from Emily StJM's life (the book tour, and the description of lockdown in Brooklyn circa 2020), is this another layer of reality/fiction being drawn around the events? All these frames and mirrors do make for happy puzzling over, but I still don't find them carrying a great deal of depth. Anyway. It was still a bit mind bending to discover that she was writing out long passages about being on tour promoting Station Eleven, a book about a world-ending flu, in the guise of being Olive Llewellyn, 22nd century novelist who is also on tour promoting a book about a world-ending flu, though in her case the book tour is cut short by another (fictional) pandemic... all while our main character time-travels to drop in on The Glass Hotel's plot lines.
posted by jokeefe at 12:38 PM on April 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Welcome to my "musing on the Emily St John Mandel Universe" bit of Fanfare. I am rereading The Glass Hotel and it's so very, very good; Sea of Tranquility seems like just a layer of icing on the substantial cake of that novel. Anyway, here's something, from the beginning of Part 6: The Counterlife (2009). Alkaitis is in prison:

No star burns forever. Words scratched into the wall by Alkaitis's bunk, etched so delicately and in such a spidery fashion that from any distance at all they look like a smudge or a crack in the paint, at exactly the right spot so he sees them when he turns his face to the wall. [...]

"Oh, that was Roberts," his cellmate tells him. "Guy here before you." [...] Roberts has come up in conversation before. "Got transferred to the hospital," Hazelton says. "He had some kind of heart thing."
"What was he like?"
"Roberts? Old guy, maybe sixty. Sorry. No offence."
"None taken." Time moves differently in prison than Manhattan or in the Connecticut suburbs. In prison, sixty is old.
"Reasonable guy, never had problems with anybody. We called him Professor. He wore glasses. He was always reading books."
"What kind of books?"
"The kind with Martian chicks and exploding planets on the cover."
"I see." Alkaitis tries to picture life as it was lived in this room before him: Roberts reading sci-fi, serious and bespectacled, disappearing into stories about alien planets while Hazelton chattered and cracked his knuckles and paced.
"Why was he here?"
"He didn't want to talk about it. Actually, he didn't want to talk about anything. Real quiet guy, just sat there staring into space a lot."
"Was he depressed?" Alkaitis asks.
"Bro, it's prison. Everyone's depressed."

So there you have it, the connecting hinge between this new book and the one before. There's more invention in that short excerpt than in most of the Sea of Tranquility. I don't like to call any effort of artistic production lazy, but I think SoT is: the device of living in the future on the moon is kind of lazy-- write about Brooklyn in the lockdown, and cover it up by putting it in the future-- the recycling of characters is lazy, the recycling of event. It was kind of thrilling to find Miranda from Station Eleven living her corporate life in Glass Hotel; it's less so to come across Mirella attending Paul's concert in Brooklyn in Sea of Tranquility. There is more life and believability in some of the minor characters in Glass Hotel than in all of the new novel; I think of Joelle or Harvey here particularly, who come across as absolutely real.

Anyway. I hope that Mandel shakes off the lure of backfilling her universe with retold plot lines and moves forward with the next book. At this point I consider Sea of Tranquility to be an appendix to Glass Hotel, and think that Glass Hotel is even better than I had before thought it to be, and that's after the ending made me burst into tears the first time round.
posted by jokeefe at 11:09 AM on April 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh hai! I just reread parts of Sea of Tranquility and this jumped out at me even more clearly-- Mirella, in her section, remembering the fallout from the Alkaitis scandal, and that Alkaitis "abandoned Vincent" and lived out his life in a hotel in Dubai. But there's a clear glitch here: Mirella at one point looks up Vincent on Google and finds numbers of photographs of her at Alkaitis's trial. So there's a trial in this world, but also somehow Alkaitis is also able to flee to Dubai, and in reality, not just in fantasy... we know from The Glass Hotel that he dies in prison, and that he has a vision of Vincent shortly after her death, while he is suffering from increasing dementia. So the timeline where he is still alive when she dies makes sense and does line up with The Glass Hotel timeline. I'd love to ask Emily Mandel about it, but perhaps it's just a tipoff that her universe contains multitudes of event streams, which we already know.

I've just moved house and I'm avoiding the piles of boxes downstairs. Help.
posted by jokeefe at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yikes! Congrats on the move but my sympathies about the unpacking. That stuff is my kryptonite.

I came in to say--I'm excited because today I got the notice that my library has bought this book and I'm on the wait list! I requested both the audio and print (well, ebook). I'll take whatever comes first. I've read Station Eleven both ways and thought it suited both mediums.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:11 PM on April 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just finished it and enjoyed it but it does seem more like an addendum to The Glass Hotel than a fully formed work of it's own.
posted by octothorpe at 4:03 AM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Agreed, octothorpe. I hold out hope for her next work, whenever that might be published.
posted by jokeefe at 6:42 PM on May 9, 2022

Another bit of musing: Mandel's vision of the future is very kind of 50s sci-fi-- cities under domes, cars replaced by, of all things, hovercrafts (isn't that more of a 70s kind of thing)?-- and there's little attempt to imagine that family life or working life are any different 200 years from now than in 2020 era New York. People rely on hand-held "devices" and hold meetings by a 3D version of Zoom which reminds me of Star Wars more than anything else. And the whole causal loop plot has been done over and over, with By His Bootstraps being the first example I can think of off the top of my head.

I would like to read more realistic fiction from her (not to get into arguing about exactly what that is). Even though there were ghosts implied in The Glass Hotel, especially at the end, they weren't the driver of the book by any means. And I do so love to read fiction set in my part of the world by someone who was, as I was also, born here.
posted by jokeefe at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I assumed that the retro-futurism was intentional with all of the tidy cul-de-sacs on the moon and such.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 AM on May 10, 2022

Perhaps? The whole M Night Shyamalan type of twist ending (which is not new, or even terrifically twisty) was so, dare I say, clunky, that I assumed she just didn't know her way around the science fiction canon all that well because if she had, she might not have chosen that ending. I love a good twist ending, I do (Sarah Waters' Affinity made me stop reading with an 'Oh fuck!', it was so clever) but this one wasn't really all that gratifying.
posted by jokeefe at 8:10 PM on May 11, 2022

I didn't really think of it as a twist ending because it was so obvious.
posted by octothorpe at 5:59 AM on May 12, 2022

Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel were shimmering and spooky; The Sea of Tranquility feels different somehow, more like a puzzle in novella* form that borrows from those worlds, a sidelight, an interstitial. Still a very good piece, but I felt like it was compressed and less reflective than those previous works. I liked it. But I've also seen what she's capable of, and this felt like a sketch in comparison to SE and TGH. But oh, the graveyard commentary--it must have felt like the end of the world--that was my favorite scene.

* I know it's a novel. I read it in hardcover, and between the short chapters and the generous white space on the pages, it felt more like a novella.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:06 PM on July 15, 2022

Just finished it and enjoyed it but it does seem more like an addendum to The Glass Hotel than a fully formed work of it's own.

Due to availability, I had to read SoT first, then go back to GH. I just finished GH, quite honestly, while SoT does recycle (maybe “reuse” is a better term?) characters and locations from GH, I didn’t get the feeling that it’s just an addendum. To me, they stand apart from each other quite well.

There isn’t a Glass Hotel FF post, is there?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:51 AM on January 22, 2023

There isn’t a Glass Hotel FF post, is there?

Well, there is now.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:23 PM on January 24, 2023

« Older Julia: Omelette; Coq Au Vin; B...   |  Podcast: Maintenance Phase: Mi... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments