Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel; Metronome by Tom Watson - review by J S Barnes

J S Barnes

Back to the Future

Sea of Tranquility


Picador 272pp £14.99



Bloomsbury 320pp £16.99

The world is full of odd coincidences. One encounters, say, an old friend not thought of in years mere minutes after thinking of them; a new word, learned from a book, appears suddenly everywhere in the days which follow its introduction, often in the most unlikely and unexpected of contexts. In general, we learn to live with such moments of strange synchronicity and not to peer into them too deeply, suspecting, perhaps, that to do so would be to invite uneasy questions.

Just such a coincidence is at the heart of Emily St John Mandel’s new novel, Sea of Tranquility. In the Canadian wilderness in 1912, a disgraced Englishman, Edwin St John St Andrew, steps alone into a forest and is startled by the impossible sound of a soaring violin. Centuries later, a musician stands in the same spot – now a futuristic airport – and plays the selfsame melody which so startled the traveller in the past. Is it mere coincidence, or something more?

The novel presents, in fractured form, an investigation into how this has come about. Moving from 1912 to 2401, by way of 2020 and 2203, we encounter the same figure recurring in different guises in each era. This mysterious man is called Gaspery-Jacques Roberts. Mandel teases us for

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