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The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

The Lola Quartet

by Emily St. John Mandel

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1743168,238 (3.62)34
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    Follow Her Home by Steph Cha (sduff222)
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    Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel (LynnB)
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    Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (baystateRA)
    baystateRA: Similar tone of underlying tension in tangentially connected stories. Both excellent!

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Six-word review: Interwoven threads of causality govern lives.

Extended review:

The Lola Quartet is the third of the four novels that Emily St. John Mandel has published so far, and for me it's the last one read. Not as strong as the other three, in my estimation, it still has most of the same traits that made the others so good, including a main character situated in a strange complex of circumstances and an admirable degree of skill in managing intertwined plotlines.

Gavin Sasaki, once a member of a high school jazz quartet, has sabotaged his journalistic career by some bad decisions and has to crawl home to Florida just as the economy is taking a plunge. When he finds out that his high school girlfriend, Anna, had had a child that was probably his, a chain of events unfolds that brings him back into contact with the other members of the quartet--and puts him in the path of a ruthless drug dealer out for revenge against Anna. The story could be a cautionary tale about living with the consequences of our worst choices, but Mandel's storytelling art clothes the lessons with the skins and psyches of believable people. It's one of her gifts to show us characters who inhabit very weird situations and yet seem like ordinary, flawed beings to whom we can relate.

I liked the depiction of Anna's half-sister Sasha, once the band's drummer, now a waitress, who has become a gambler struggling to master her compulsion. Her condition gives Mandel a chance to voice a minority view on addiction:

She'd known that this was her last chance and she'd fought every day since then to not gamble, but she could never bring herself to think of it as a disease. She'd had arguments with William about it.

"If I had pneumonia," she'd said, "I wouldn't be able to will myself to get better. There's no such thing as Pneumonia Anonymous. There's a difference between a disease and a character flaw."

"It's thinking like that that keeps treatment programs underfunded," he'd said, and changed the subject.
(page 193)

Mandel has a good author's talent for making the course of events seem natural and inevitable without being predictable. The result is a suspenseful novel that comes together with a solid bang. To me the weakness is mostly in the fact that I simply don't find Gavin as interesting as the main characters in her other novels, and his quest to find his daughter doesn't feel to me like the sort of compelling passion that drives large actions at the core of great novels.

Nonetheless, I'm in Mandel's corner and will be looking forward to reading whatever she writes next. ( )
1 vote Meredy | Jun 13, 2015 |
Until late January I had never heard of Emily St John Mandel. Now I have read four amazing novels by her and she is firmly established among my favourite authors. 'The Lola Quartet' is her third novel, published in 2012, and is probably the weakest of the four, though that still leaves plenty of scope for it to be exceptionally good.

The Lola Quartet of the title is a jazz band formed of pupils in their last year in high school in Sebastiana, Florida, and their final concert is the occasion for event that will reverberate for all of them throughout the next ten years. The novel resonates with a rich melange of themes ranging from teenage love, hope, despair, fear, mental fragility, gambling addiction, substance abuse, drug dealing, music and murder. Mandel adroitly moves between the present and various points during the previous ten years. Beyond their membership of the quartet the four members have relatively little in common and are all set to go their different ways after leaving school.

The book initially focuses on Gavin who, after having secured a place at the prestigious Ivy League Columbia University, is now a reporter in New York. Gavin is now living alone after his long term girlfriend Karen had left him a short time ago. A chance assignment leads Gavin to return to Florida for the first time in several years. There he meets his sister Eilo (short for Eileen) who shows him a photograph that she had recently taken of a girl who looks just like she had done when she was that age. Gavin is intrigued and wonders whether the girl might be his daughter, from his girlfriend during his last year in school. This precipitates a series of memories of Gavin's final weeks at school, and also starts to have a deleterious effect on his work. Meanwhile the focus moves to the other former members of the Lola Quartet who have all led rather hectic lives since leaving school.

The plotting is tense, gripping and always plausible. Mandel has a great facility for conveying the seedier aspects of life without glorification or condescension - this is how some people live, so get over it, she seems to say, though that does not preclude her characters from viewing aspects of that lifestyle with searing squeamishness. Her dialogue is always vibrant but somehow immensely believable, and she captures all the different voices with a deft ear. ( )
2 vote Eyejaybee | May 30, 2015 |
The title refers to a high-school band. On the night of their final gig, as their senior year is winding down, the trumpet-player's girlfriend disappears amid rumors of pregnancy. Ten years later, Gavin (the trumpet player), having moved to New York to pursue a career in journalism, gets an assignment to return to his Florida hometown to do a story. He meets up with his sister, who shows him a photograph she took of a 10-year old girl that looks exactly like she did at that age. The taking of that photo has set events into motion that sheds light onto semi-forgotten mysteries. Subsequently illuminated is an incredible story involving stolen drug money, broken lives, faulty memory, addiction, violence, and murder.

This is the 2nd Mandel book I have read and, once again, her characters are what carry the narrative. Believable and sympathetic, Gavin, Anna, Sasha, Daniel, and Jack - all of them grown into less than their dreams - pull you along as their relationships and intertwined stories are revealed. Gritty and real, this is a slow-burn, noir-ish tale reminiscent of a Cohen brothers film. ( )
  ScoLgo | May 19, 2015 |
2014’s Station Eleven captivated me with its story of life after a pandemic flu caused the collapse of society, and The Lola Quartet, an earlier novel by the same author, shares many of Station Eleven’s story elements, including a life during crisis theme, though here the disasters are on a smaller scale.

Gavin is unsettled by the news that he may have fathered a daughter by a troubled high school girlfriend who disappeared--so unsettled he makes mistakes that sabotage his NYC career as a reporter, though print journalism is in its death throes anyway and his paper shut down not long after he was fired. He moves back to Florida because an economic crash similar to (or the same as) the one of 2007-2008 has created a job opportunity for him with his sister, whose work involves foreclosing on homes--she has to use a punching bag to work off the stress. In his free time Gavin uses his investigative skills to try to find his old girlfriend and his daughter.

It’s a fraught enterprise, and he’s warned off it at every turn, but locating his missing daughter is not something Gavin can let go of. In the process he reconnects with the other members of his high school jazz quartet--his girlfriend’s half-sister was the drummer--but everyone’s life has changed drastically since the almost magical evening of their final concert outdoors on the back of a truck, and no one seems able or willing to help him.

As in Station Eleven there are several third person narrators, the writing is beautiful and evocative, and the story is riveting, moving, and complex. Both novels unfold while shifting back and forth in time, revealing information slowly--a technique that irritates me in some books, but author Emily St. John Mandel makes it feel artful. Though The Lola Quartet doesn’t involve the almost total disintegration of civilization, strangely it’s a darker, less hopeful tale than Station Eleven, with moral dilemmas and needless but inevitable tragedy giving it an uncompromising, maybe noirish feel. ( )
  Jaylia3 | May 12, 2015 |
This is a novel about four high school friends who went their separate ways after their jazz quartet disbanded. Years later, after Gavin's sister sees a child who looks just like him, Gavin wonders if his old high school girlfriend had a baby and didn't tell him. Compelled to find this child he believes may be in danger, and in the wake of the highly publicized self-destruction of his career, Gavin returns to his hometown in Florida. Unbeknownst to Gavin, his old friends have kept secrets from him regarding his girlfriend and the birth of her child. As Gavin tracks down the clues to uncover the truth, he inadvertently sets into motion a series of events which place his friends and the child in jeopardy. Told from multiple perspectives and different periods of time, this novel questions the strength of old friendships and past secrets, which may be best left alone.

I enjoyed this novel, primarily because the writing style I enjoyed from "Station Eleven" was also present in this earlier work from the author. It was a quick read and I enjoyed the suspense I experienced worrying for the characters' safety. However, it was also a dark novel, which was only partially balanced with the thrill of the music described throughout. I found it interesting that the author chose to focus on the music as a primary element given the focus on Shakespeare and the Traveling Symphony in "Station Eleven". In all, a good read. ( )
  voracious | Feb 18, 2015 |
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"The novelty of our adventure was wearing thin, but not because our feet hurt and we were constantly blaming each other for the forgotten sunscreen. There was some other thing that we could not clearly explain. The farther we ventured, the more everything looked the same, as if each new street, park, or shopping mall was simply another version of our own, made from the same giant assembly kit. Only the names were different." Shaun Tan, Tales from Outer Suburbia
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Anna had fallen into a routine, or as much of a routine as a seventeen-year-old can reasonably fall into when she's transient and living in hiding with an infant. She was staying at her sister's friend's house in a small town in Virginia.
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Gavin Sasaki's 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 drifting toward bankruptcy and is in no position to refuse when he's offered a job by his sister, Eilo, a real estate broker who deals.… (more)

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