Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked this book up to read but it wasn’t what I got! I found the first part of the book a little confusing as it hopped from seemingly separate story to story. You have to wait for the second half of the book for things to fall into place and again at the very end to see the cleverness of this tale.

This is a sci-fi book out and out although there are many elements that make it feel like it isn’t at times. There is time travel, a Time Institute that is self-serving and the means to cure things that at present we suffer with. But this is also a pandemic novel, written during a pandemic and a reflection on living through a pandemic.

This is the strange lesson of living in a pandemic: life can be tranquil in the face of death.


But the big question in the book is ‘Are we living in a simulation?’ This was the question asked by the film The Matrix and the answer was yes and the protaganists went on to escape. In the Sea of Tranquility the answer is yes but there is an acceptance that a life lived in a simulation is still a life.

One of the characters in the book whose life is visited is Olive an author whose book Marienbad has become very popular and so she goes on a book tour. I can’t help but think that this is based on Mandel’s life. The depiction of the sameness of the hotel rooms – beige or blue – the loneliness, the missing of your family and the rubbish food are just too true to life as are some of the questions asked by readers. There is also the reality for many people of realising that the pandemic is real and dangerous and rushing to get home so that you are not locked out of your own life.

Turns out reality is more important than we thought.


This was a shorter novel and would make an excellent book choice for book clubs with plenty to discuss.

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