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December 05, 2022

The Lola Quartet: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel.

"How far would you go for someone you love?" - from The Lola Quartet

Gavin Sasaki is living his dream job writing stories for a New York newspaper. Then his editor sends him to Florida, where Gavin grew up, to do a story on dangerous and exotic wildlife living in the suburbs. Back on his old stomping grounds during a meal with his sister, Gavin is shocked to learn he may have a daughter. The revelation stirs up old memories and slowly Gavin begins to unravel. When he gets back to New York, he inserts a small lie in his Florida story ... a lie which opens the door to more lies and eventually the loss of his job.

The point was that Gavin had opened a door, cracked it just slightly, and he could see through to the disgrace and shadows on the other side. If you tell a lie it's easier to tell another. An abyss yawns suddenly at your feet. - from The Lola Quartet -

The unraveling of Gavin's life brings him back to Florida to the home of his sister where he begins his own private investigation into the disappearance of his high school girlfriend, Anna, and the search for his now ten-year-old daughter. As he navigates the murky and dark waters of his youth, Gavin reconnects with the members of the Lola Quartet, a high school jazz group including Jack (a college dropout who is sinking into the shadows of prescription drug abuse), Sasha (Anna's half-sister who is struggling with a gambling addiction), and Daniel (a black cop with a tattered past of failed relationships). What he uncovers and the consequences of his search will forever change Gavin's life.

Emily St. John Mandel's third novel is haunting and carefully crafted. It is a little like peeling an onion with the layers slipping away until the core of the story is uncovered. Mandel has constructed her story from multiple view points, dipping back and forth in time, allowing the reader to get glimpses of the complexity of relationships before finally exposing the complete truth of what has happened. It is a unique style of narration which creates subtle tension and keeps the reader fully engrossed.

The characters in The Lola Quartet are damaged and very flawed. Once young and hopeful, these characters are now facing an uncertain future. One impulsive act in youth has led to dire consequences in adulthood.

Mandel takes her readers on a twisty course, building her story to its inevitable end. But it was not the plot which grabbed me, it was the train wreck of the characters' lives and the secrets they hold. And this is something which Mandel does extraordinarily well -- she creates living, breathing people and puts them in terrible situations so that we may examine their motivations, their sense of morality (or not), and the fragile balance between fate and choice.

The Lola Quartet is a terrific novel which I would classify as a literary suspense-thriller. Written with Mandel's signature style, filled with complex characters, and revolving around the simple, yet compelling, concept that one decision can have lasting echoes far into the future.

Highly recommended.

  • Quality of Writing: Five stars
  • Characters: Five stars
  • Plot: Four and a half stars

Overall Rating: Five stars out of five.

FTC. Disclosure: This novel was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-05-28
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