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Book Review: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (3/5)

4 Jun

I picked this book up when Mandel did her tour for Station Eleven being the Great Michigan Read. I hadn’t heard anything about it but the cover intrigued me. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I decided to pursue it as an ebook which meant I read this over the course of a month, much slower than I normally read. It made for slow going but it also filled some quiet moments when I needed a story.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

Other books by Mandel reviewed on this blog:

Station Eleven (and book club reflection and another book club reflection and meeting the author)

Summary from Goodreads:

Gavin Sasaki was a promising young journalist in New York City until the day he was fired for plagiarism. The last thing he wants is to sell foreclosed real estate for his sister Eilo’s company in their Florida hometown, but he’s in no position to refuse her job offer. Plus, there’s another reason to go home: Eilo recently met a ten-year-old girl who looks very much like Gavin and has the same last name as his high-school girlfriend, Anna, who left town abruptly after graduation.

Determined to find out if this little girl might be his daughter, Gavin sets off to track down Anna, starting with the three friends they shared back when he was part of a jazz group called “The Lola Quartet.” As Gavin pieces together their stories, he learns that Anna has been on the run for good reason, and soon his investigation into her sudden disappearance all those years ago takes a seriously dangerous turn.

This book never pulled me in the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t never so invested in Gavin and Anna that I couldn’t put it down. The mystery unraveled itself so slowly that it didn’t keep me engaged a lot of the time. That being said, the characters were wonderful. Everyone was tragically flawed in a different way and it kept you reading when the plot was slow. While Anna and Gavin are the focus, we still have Sasha and Daniel and Liam who have their own problems and keep the plot moving forward if only to figure out what’s going wrong in their lives. The character development made this book interesting.

The flaws in the characters were very real. Gavin was the most interesting to me. When he got caught in a lie, he wasn’t sure how to get out of it. He didn’t apologize and at first, didn’t seem sorry for what he’d done. He seemed to like to suffer and be a tragic story. I think we’ve all met people like that who we would call Drama Queens but Gavin didn’t fit that for me. His suffering seemed to be deeper and more lasting which gave him some good character depth that made him interesting.

Gavin was my favorite character. I couldn’t get a good picture of him in my head and that made him more interesting. At first, I pictured him short and stocky and then a scene later I’d think he was tall and thin. I’d give him long, graceful fingers, and then a few pages later, I’m picturing him with big feet. He never settled in my mind. This isn’t to say he was inconsistent because his behavior and speech were very consistent. It made him more enjoyable to read about because my picture of him kept changing.

Gavin’s regret was relatable even if I’ve never realized I left a pregnant girlfriend to move to New York. He was torn up about it and I’ve felt torn up about things before, too. He was curious and felt frustrated when people wouldn’t give him straight answers. The way he went about investigating Chloe felt very real and thought out in a way I might have done it.

Me and Mandel

I enjoyed the parts that Sasha narrated. She was a very flawed and beautiful character. I liked her background of gambling and I think it added a great layer to her character. She didn’t trust herself because she was unsure if she was acting as an addict or as a logical person. Her distrust for herself was engaging and it made me look forward to chapters she narrated.

I felt like we never got to know Anna well. She seemed very docile at the beginning but as we learned more and more about her, that flipped and she seemed angry and unreliable and almost evil at times. But you knew she wasn’t a very bad person if she raised Chloe. She seemed to hate men but she relied on a number of them. I never got a good feeling for who she trusted and why anyone trusted her. She’s not someone I ever would have picked for a friend. She floated around more like a ghost. Despite this, everyone seemed to want to be near her and talk to her. I wanted to leave her be and run away.

There are a lot of themes in this book: returning home, fixing past mistakes, protecting a child. I think Gavin grew most in the book and a lot of these can apply to him. He was always trying to escape Sebastian and become someone he couldn’t be when he was there, but he needed to come home and find out who he really was. His life in New York was so fragile that he left with only the clothes on his back and that was fine. He seemed to always have an inkling that he’d done wrong by Anna. (Honestly, I can’t understand why they were together at all, but that’s just me.) He felt that finding her and offering help, though he had almost nothing to offer, was the only way to fix this. Daniel was able to fix some of his past mistakes better than Gavin was. Gavin floundered, unsure what to do to atone for his misses. He had to reconcile with himself what it took to protect Chloe. Would he be helping her or hurting her by coming back into her life? How could he make things better for her and is what Anna did really helpful? I liked how he struggled with this because it felt very real.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book was odd in that it was a slow character-driven thriller. Despite a mystery tone and plot, the people in it shone. I like books that take a spin on what we traditionally think of in a genre and Mandel was able to do that with this one.

Overall, not for me but still enjoyable. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Review of “The Lola Quartet” by Emily St. John Mandel | Rhapsody in Books Weblog
Emily St. John Mandel – The Lola Quartet (Publisher’s Review) | McArthur & Company