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Sea of Tranquility – Emily St. John Mandel

by Venky

(Image Credit: Penguin Random House)

Four centuries. Future bleeding into the past. Present intermingling with the future. “Sea of Tranquility” is Emily St. John Mandel’s courageous and spectacular foray into speculative fiction. Toggling between the 19th, 21st, 23rd and 25th centuries, Emily St. John Mandel  weaves a stunning tapestry of Science and spirituality.

The book opens in the year 1912. Edwin St. John St. Andrew, the scion of a blue blooded family seeped in the traditions of the British Raj, and a potential inheritor to a substantial fortune, is banished to Canada by his unrepentant parents following a dinner gaffe, where Edwin liberally rebukes the colonisation of India by the British before proceeding to add in for good measure a few uncharitable words about the peerage and pedigree of his direct ancestor, William of Orange.

In Canada, Edwin, encounters an inexplicably bizarre, and almost surreal, experience in the quaint setting of Caiette, a tiny sliver of civilization boasting all of a pier, a small white church, seven or eight houses, and a logging camp. Edwin, while staring up a thick maple tree in the periphery of a forest experiences a supernatural vision where darkness envelopes him to the accompaniment of the notes of a violin. The vision itself comes to a careening end with an abrupt whoosh. Upon regaining normalcy, Edwin finds himself face to face with a stranger who introduces himself as Gaspery Roberts.

The novel then moves on to the year 2020 where the reader is introduced to a melancholic woman named Mirella Kessler. Mirella is devastated by the nasty revelation that her estranged friend Vincent is dead. Paul Smith, a ‘niche’ musical composer and brother of Vincent also discloses over drinks, to Mirella, that before Vincent died under mysterious circumstances, she allowed Paul to use a video which she had made many years ago, in his musical shows. This video features Vincent being the beneficiary of an experience identical to that assailing Edwin a century ago. The puzzling Gaspery Roberts makes an appearance in this segment as well.

The deliberate mischief with time delectably continues as the book now enters into its third segment. Welcome, Olive Llewellyn, an author who calls Colony Two in Outer Space, home. Having arrived on earth to promote her latest book titled ‘Marienbad’, Llewellyn embarks on a frenzied series of promotional tours whizzing between countries in superfast conveyances and regaling her audience about her book, which is all about a post-apocalyptic future following a pandemic. A chance and paradigm shifting encounter with Gaspery Roberts – yes that man again – finally leads the by now excited and poleaxed reader to the final segment of the book. Set in the 25th century, this section of the book finally reveals the origin, intent and employment of Gaspery Roberts.

Incorporating spoilers in a review would not just ruin the lustre of a book, but would also be tantamount to tarnishing the luminance of its author. But suffice it to say that Gaspery Roberts, employed as an in-house detective at the Grand Luna Hotel in Colony Two, has had the short end of an eventful life himself. Growing up in Colony Two also known as ‘the  Night City’ (the place where the sky was always black,” courtesy a perpetual failure of the City dome’s artificial lighting system), Roberts has led an unfulfilled life. His job unfathomably demands paying attention to what happens around him and just remaining fixed at his station of responsibility. This is in stark contrast to the professional career enjoyed by his mercurially brilliant sister Zoey, a Physicist who is employed at an enigmatically secretive organisation called the Time Institute.

An eclectic combination of style and ingenuity makes “Sea of Tranquility” a love child of the Wachowski Brothers (now sisters), and Kazuo Ishiguro. Dystopian yet hopeful, vulnerable yet victorious, the book is an unabashed homage to human resilience in the face of adversity perpetrated by humanity itself. Empathy competes with ennui as otherwise meek minions indulge in brazen subordination for the better cause of reason and preservation. Gaspery Roberts, in fact bears an uncanny resemblance in character and disposition to Cath, the dutiful ‘Carer’, at the boarding house called Hailsham in Ishiguro’s haunting tour de force, ‘Never Let Me Go’.

No star burns forever. You can say it’s the end of the world and mean it, but what gets lost in that kind of careless usage is that the world will eventually literally end. Not ‘civilization,’ whatever that is, but the actual planet.” Gaspery reflects upon finding himself in an inextricably sticky situation. But as Emily St. John Mandel illustrates, and with a conviction that is frightening, every end denotes a new beginning. The commencement of hope, positivity and expectation.

“Sea of Tranquility”, a tidal wave of unadulterated peace and sanguinity.

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