Book Review: The Sea of Tranquility

I know I said that I mostly read books by women authors, but if I’m going to read men, it is usually Canadian men. I read something by Lesley Choyce several years ago and really liked it. I was reminded of him recently when looking through that magazine at the children’s librarian’s desk (apparently he writes a lot of YA stuff) and went and looked on the shelf. The Sea of Tranquility looked promising.

I really enjoyed it. It is very character driven, which I like. Set on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, it focuses on a small group of what might be considered eccentric characters. Choyce explores themes of aging, love, knowledge, economics, and community through the interwoven stories of these people.  Some biting commentary on eco-tourism and ethical investing is neatly woven into the story, too. There is also a short section that deals very sympathetically with bipolar mental illness.

It is only reflecting on writing this review that the knowledge theme became clear to me. The main character, Syvie, is 80 and has lived on the island her whole life. Her knowledge of the island, the sea, the whales, human nature, and a whole host of other things is gradually revealed. This knowledge is not based on “book learning” and indeed one of her husbands (she has been widowed 4 times) makes this point explicitly in a memory passage. The nature of knowledge is thus explored subtly all the way through the novel in thought provoking ways. There might be some connection to the Charlotte Mason notion of developing the habit of attention. But there is something else about embodied knowledge.

The economic theme is perhaps particularly interesting in these times. This island is out of the mainstream. Historically important industries, like the fishery, are no longer possible. The ways in which they adapt and respond to their economic circumstances are intersting. Some of the characters are “from away” (a phrase not used in the book but common in Newfoundland and parts of the Maritimes). The decisions they make point up how one can get caught up in a particular culture that requires university degrees and high paying jobs  as well as how a crisis (personal or collective) can provide the impetus to question those values and really determine what is personally important.

This book might challenge your own ideas about what constitute “good choices” in love, in career, in day to day activities.

It is also gripping. There are passages that are very suspenseful and the writing carries you along masterfully. There are great metaphors. The characterization is good. All in all, this is a good read.

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