The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

lola quartetAnna is seventeen, with a baby, and she’s on the run. Ten years later, Gavin’s life is falling apart: he loses his job and his New York City apartment, and returns to small-town Florida with his tail between his legs. As he tries to patch a life back together, he also searches for a piece of his past that’s gone missing: an old girlfriend who disappeared, and a daughter he never knew he had. To solve the mystery and unravel the intrigue that has followed them into the present, Gavin will have to reconnect with the members of the Lola Quartet, his old jazz group from high school.

The Lola Quartet is told from several different perspectives in disjointed chronology, like Station Eleven, although its circumstances are less imaginative: Gavin and his former band members inhabit the same world that we do. The characters are all fully-developed and interesting people, with complexities and inner conflicts, and the story keeps us moving right along; this is a difficult book to put down. The thread of music that runs through the book – as a down-and-out jazz musician obsesses, and the gifted are said to “have the music” – is another sparkling element that brings these people to life. The Florida that Mandel evokes is hypnotic in its humidity and quiet threats. I found it an interesting twist that Gavin is a boy from Florida who can’t handle the heat.

This is not the masterpiece that Station Eleven is, although it’s a very enjoyable read. There were a few plot twists that I felt could have used a little more explaining, or else been left out. The character who compels all those around her, for whom everyone else makes sacrifices, didn’t show the kind of charisma I would think necessary to draw those loyalties; and I know sometimes these things are just inexplicable, but I still would have appreciated a little more expression of her magnetism. But the setting and the characters are as real as can be; the story has momentum and suspense; The Lola Quartet is a novel to lose yourself in.

Rating: 7 photographs.

3 Responses

  1. I wonder if the title is also a reference to The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell, which also involves different perspectives, nonlinear chronology, and an investigation of the past.

  2. […] will recall how I’ve enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel (here, here). This is Warnick quoting Mandel quoting (the critic) Wilson: whoa. And what a perfect sentiment. […]

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