Emily St. John Mandel writes books that are unlike any others I’ve read. For her books, that’s a very, very good thing. I’ve really enjoyed all three of them.
In this case, I don’t know whether to describe this more as a thriller with a very literary bent, or a novel about the uncertainty we all face as we move from our teenage dreams into adulthood (which has a mystery/thriller plot as a frame). It doesn’t matter. I enjoyed it as both, although probably more as a look at life than as a mystery.
Here’s the summary via Unbridled Books:
Gavin Sasaki is a promising young journalist in New York City, until he’s fired in disgrace following a series of unforgivable lapses in his work. It’s early 2009, and the world has gone dark very quickly. The economic collapse has turned an era that magazine headlines once heralded as the second gilded age into something that more closely resembles the Great Depression. The last thing Gavin wants to do is return to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida, but he’s in no position to refuse when he’s offered a job by his sister, Eilo, a real estate broker who deals in foreclosed homes. Also, Eilo has shown him a photo of a ten-yearold girl who could be homeless and in trouble. The little girl looks strikingly like Gavin and has the same last name as his high school girlfriend, Anna, from a decade ago. Gavin—a former jazz musician, a reluctant broker of foreclosed properties, obsessed with film noir and private detectives and otherwise at loose ends—begins his own private investigation in an effort to track down Anna and their apparent daughter who, it turns out, have been on the run all these years.
The key to this book was some great characters– completely ordinary people, with ordinary quirks that got each of them into extraordinary situations.
In the book, the Lola Quartet was a group of musicians at a performing arts high school. They were skilled enough for the high school scene, but that didn’t carry through to adulthood. Music flowed through the book, influencing their lives, and popping up as a continuing tie between the characters, even long after they’d dropped all contact with each other.
Each member of the quartet (as well as Gavin’s girlfriend and his sister) was part of the story. Each had quirks and foibles, but I could understand how most of them came to make an incredibly bad decision that snowballed in a way to destroy the life each was expecting to live.
I’m quite sure that I would never have been in the situation that led to one of them stealing a large amount of money, setting in motion the action portion of the book. On the other hand, I could completely understand how Gavin got into the mess he did. I’d like to think I’d have behaved differently. I can’t swear to it, given the pressures he was facing.
So, no one is living they life they expected in high school. Gavin came closest, actually going to work as a reporter, albeit on a smaller scale than he’d dreamed. He was engaged, and life was good, right up until it wasn’t. Thanks to a chance discovery by his sister, he sets out to find out what happened to his high school girlfriend when she just disappeared, and this sets up ripples leading into everyone’s lives.
The book is best when it is exploring the ties between the lives of the characters, and between where they thought they were going versus where they ended up. The mystery aspects where Gavin was hunting for what had happened worked well for me, both as a mystery and as a way of delivering the story of the characters. The action aspect, as the bad guys were chasing and threatening mayhem, worked well as a motivator for the characters, even if I didn’t love it for its own sake. (And I’m not sure why I didn’t. It was well written, and I’m a mystery reader. I certainly didn’t dislike it, or find that it distracted from the story!).
The book is beautifully written. The words don’t get in the way, but they set the scene, the mood, the characters. The book truly has a character of its own. It’s a book I’ll keep thinking about.
Thank you to Unbridled Books for sending me a review copy of The Lola Quartet.