Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 breakout novel, Station Eleven, told the story of a global pandemic that originates in the former Soviet Union and decimates life on Earth. A page-turner with an eerie, elegiac quality, it won the Arthur C Clarke award and was widely praised for its fine storytelling and for the unsettling glimpses it gave of our world plausibly unravelling into chaos and the dystopian existence beyond it. Five years after it came out, and with an HBO adaptation in the pipeline, it acquired an aura of creepy prophecy as Covid-19 made us all fluent in the language of pandemics. What made the book’s apparent prescience doubly strange is that one of Mandel’s hallmarks as a writer is noticing the echoes between apparently chance events: the links between distant characters, motifs from art recurring in life, and the historical echoes of long-separated incidents. The coincidence of a book meaningfully anticipating a current predicament could be one of her novelistic devices. An interest in complex patterns animates Mandel’s new novel, Sea of Tranquility, though, as in Station Eleven, the naturalism and specificity of its opening gives little idea of the strangeness to come. The story begins in 1912 as a young British immigrant, Edwin St John St Andrew, is embarking on a new life in Canada. He’s one of the so-called “remittance men” – wastrel sons of upper-class British families who were packed off to the colonies on a private income to keep them out of further trouble. One day, as Edwin wanders in the woods of western Canada, he undergoes a paranormal experience whose meaning he cannot begin to fathom. A few dozen pages on, the scene suddenly shifts and we are plunged into the present. At a concert in New York a composer is playing an old piece of video that seems to show a version of whatever Edwin found in the forest. Now that we’re invested in the mystery, the weirdness can really begin. There are two subsequent interwoven storylines. One unfolds in the 23rd century, where a writer called Olive Llewellyn, who was born and raised on a lunar colony, is visiting Earth on a book tour. The other plot strand takes place 200 years later, when an investigator named after a character in one of Olive Llewellyn’s novels begins to piece together the connections between all these different lives.