Matt’s Reviews: The Glass Hotel / Sea Of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel has a way with words and story. The Glass Hotel tells the story of a Bernie Madoff type huge Ponzi scam and its affects on various people from the investors to his ‘wife’ to his employees and family to others not directly connected to the scam. Sea of Tranquility is a time travel epic going back and forth from several centuries in the future and back to 1912. These seem like completely different stories, and they are, but Mandel brings them together with intriguing little connection points. The woman who recorded an important video as a teenager in Sea of Tranquility is the same woman who disappeared off a ship in The Glass Hotel. There are several of these interconnections across the books that lend an air of depth to both. There is no need to read either one of these before the other. They are completely independent stories, but the connections make both a little more interesting and a little more enjoyable.

Book Cover: Sea Of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • Publication Date: 4/5/2022
  • ISBN: 978-0593552070
  • Author: Emily St. John Mandel
  • Read by: John Lee, Dylan Moore, Arthur Morey, Kirsten Potter
Sea Of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel is a really good book. I love the way the author puts words together and crafts the multiple story lines and multiple timelines in the novel. Her language can be almost poetic. The book jumps through several hundred years of time as a time traveling investigator is researching a ‘glitch’ in time where it appears multiple times overlapped for a few moments from 1912 to the 2200’s. We follow Gasperry Jacques Roberts as he tries to get more insight into the glitch, and we follow each of the people he interviews and their lives in and around the glitch.
It is difficult to describe this book. I was invested in each of the lives in all of the timelines. St. John Mandel writes believable and relatable characters. The younger brother of English aristocracy dealing with ennui by visiting the Americas in 1912. The young woman in 2020 trying to find out what happened to her friend who disappeared years before. The old violinist playing in the airship station for coins. The man and his sister in the moon colonies dealing with his own boredom with life, applying to and becoming a time traveler in 2401. The author of a pandemic novel dealing with a rising pandemic in 2203, certainly inspired by Mandel’s time with the COVID19 pandemic and her own pre-pandemic pandemic novel (Station Eleven). Even though this is a fairly short book, each of the stories is rich and full and feels real.
The one bone I have to pick with this story is that the future, two centuries out, is too close to the present when it comes to the day-to-day lives of the people. Moving 200+ years into the future, there are airships between worlds and colonies on the moon and around nearby stars, but in the towns, the cars are still often driven by people and the world on the ground, on the earth and on the moon colonies, reads like the very near future rather than two centuries off. But this is really a small gripe.
The story is more important than the few specifics of world building in this case, and the story is a lovely story. I really like how Mandel pulls characters and incidents from her previous work into the story. You don’t have to have read the previous stories. This is a completely stand-alone novel, but there is an enrichment as the previous works touch lightly into this one.
Mandel’s language is rich and it is a very satisfying tale. It resonates with the recent past and makes you think about the future. It is also a morality tale. How did you, would you, handle things like a global pandemic? Would you change things if you could? What would you change? What if the consequences to you personally, were high?

Book Cover: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

  • Publisher:              PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
  • Publication date: 03/24/2020
  • Pages:                     320
  • ISBN:                      9780525521143
  • Author:                   Emily St John Mandel
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel centers around Vincent, a young woman who moves from tending bar to high society ‘wife’ to ocean-going chef throughout the course of the book. It is her tale and the story of Johnathan Alkaitis, a Bernie Madoff style fraudster. St. John Mandel admits that the financial crimes detailed in the book were directly based on Madoff’s schemes. The crimes themselves are interesting, but the real significance and delight of the book is in the characters and their interactions. The world and the people who inhabit it are rich and deep and very believable. It is a joy to read.
Trying to create a story based on the Madoff swindle, this could have been just a straight forward ‘crime story’ of what he did and how he did it. The author touches on these aspects, but it is really more about the people and how they connect and conflict and continue. She brings in a spiritual aspect to the people, and perhaps some actual spirits. It is masterful story telling. You come to know and care for the various characters, even the criminals. These are real people and they live in the book and beyond.
Sea of Tranquility is listed as ‘speculative fiction’. It could be called science fiction, but the science is not the point of the story. The people and their lives and their choices are the important part of the story. The Glass Hotel is literary fiction with just a little fantastical elements, but again, it is the people in the story and the choices they make and the consequences of those actions that drive the story. Emily St. John Mandel is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.


by Matt Truxaw

Book Cover: Plastivore by Matt Truxaw

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