Posts tagged ‘Emily St John Mandel’

April 25, 2022

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

by Team Riverside
cover of Sea of Tranquility

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

Three people, separately and at different points over three hundred years, experience an anomaly.  In the middle of their ordinary lives, there is an instant of blackness, a violin, a strange sound.  Then everything reverts to normal.  One of these is an exile from England in Canada in 1812; one a novelist visiting Earth on a book tour; one is Vincent, a young woman walking through a wilderness.  Also linking them is the detective Gaspery-Jacques Roberts from the 25th century, who is investigating this glitch in time and space.

Sea of Tranquility follows St. John Mandel’s outstanding novel The Glass Hotel (see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2020/08/05/the-glass-hotel-by-emily-st-john-mandel/).  Several characters, including Vincent and Mirella, appear here.  I shouted out loud, I was so delighted to see Vincent again.  The humanity and relatability of the characters is clear, so much so that their extraordinary circumstances came to seem normal to me as I read.  Off world colonies and multiple worlds are made familiar to us by the concerns of those living in them: fear in the face of danger, suspicion of overarching authorities, affection for home, and the pull of those you love.  Olive, visiting Earth and more specifically Salt Lake City, says: “There’s something to be said for looking up at a clear blue sky and knowing that it isn’t a dome”.

Like Octavia E. Butler, whose novels I am belatedly discovering, St. John Mandel uses her futuristic work to explore ideas about ethics and responsibility.  If you knew what was going to happen to everyone you met, would you be able to resist intervening in their lives?  Who gets to decide what is the ‘right’ world, the ‘correct’ timeline, and why?

The novelist Olive Llewellyn speaks of pandemics to her book tour audiences, and the Covid-19 pandemic features as a historical incident.  But as a new virus pops up on the news during the tour, her reactions to it feel very familiar to us.  As do her feelings, in 2203, being asked about being away from her young daughter for work.  A woman praises Olive’s husband for looking after her daughter.  “Forgive me,” Olive said, “I fear there’s a problem with my translator bot.  I thought you said he was kind to care for his own child”.

I enjoyed this novel so much.  There is also a good cat in this book.

Review by Bethan

August 5, 2020

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Macmillan, £14.99, out nowEmily St John Mandel THE GLASS HOTEL.jpg

If you like your novels to take you to a series of elsewheres, and give you characters to get obsessed with, The Glass Hotel may be your perfect book.

It moves through striking settings: skyscraper Manhattan, a deluxe glass hotel in the Canadian wilderness, and a ship that the young and beautiful woman Vincent falls from as the novel opens.  But who is Vincent, and why does she disappear?  And why has someone etched in acid on the hotel lobby window “why don’t you swallow broken glass”?

Mandel has said that she wanted to write about the collapse of a too good to be true investment scheme, and those affected by it (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/apr/04/emily-st-john-mandel-i-admire-novelists-who-are-pushing-the-form-forward-in-some-some).  But the book is about our ability to delude ourselves more generally, to be able to carry on living with some level of knowledge of what is going on, but to be in denial about the true meaning of our actions until everything collapses.  I had read Stan Cohen’s classic States of Denial just before reading this, and his themes of knowing and not knowing at the same time were echoed over and over in The Glass Hotel.

The Glass Hotel reflects the very different worlds an individual can occupy and move between.  From poverty to wealth, abundance to ruin, work to permanent leisure.  Vincent comments on the similarity between wealthy urban areas around the world after visiting Singapore and London, noting that they are a culture or nation of their own – “the kingdom of money”.  One character, a former businessman, notices the world of shadows – people living in the margins compared to his more mainstream life.  He sees people in Las Vegas holding up signs advertising ‘girls to your room in 20 mins’ (p.247).  “He’d seen the shadow country, its outskirts and signs, he’d just never thought he’d have anything to do with it”.

It is also about how the people from your past might come back to haunt you, literally or figuratively.

The possibility of finding joy in difficult situations, and the value of resilience, recurs.  Vincent’s brother Paul, meeting her after some time apart, notes: “He studied Vincent closely for signs of trouble, but she seemed like a reserved, put-together person, someone who’d conducted herself carefully and avoided the land mines.  How did she get to be like that, and Paul like this?”.

I fell into this novel and didn’t want to stop till I’d finished.

Review by Bethan