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The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

The Lola Quartet

by Emily St. John Mandel

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1863363,528 (3.63)35
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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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[bc:The Lola Quartet|20550359|The Lola Quartet|Emily St. John Mandel|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1389740259s/20550359.jpg|18007817]

Its difficult to describe the exact literary genre The Lola Quartet falls under, it lives somewhere in the nexus of literary fiction and crime mystery. As as a character study with a noir flair, it works pretty well, as a mystery I found it somehow underwhelming and anti-climatic.

The Lola Quartet, the 3rd novel by Canadian-born writer Emily St.John-Mandel, with its sultry descriptions of run-down jazz bars, fedoras and trench coats felt definitively like Noir to me.

If you read St. Mantel highly successful 2014 Post-Apocalyptic "Station Eleven", you'd be familiar with her clear appreciation for the fine arts. Her background as a contemporary dancer clearly permeates into her style of writing and the role theater and classical music play in the case of Station Eleven and jazz and music in general in the case of The Lola Quartet.

The book which takes its name from the German film, Run Lola Run, alternates between the high-school years and present day lives of four friends from Sebastian, a fictional Florida suburb, who are all part of a high-school jazz band that goes by the same name.

Gavin Sasaki is a half-Japanese trumpet player, Daniel, the only African-American of the band plays the bass, Sasha is the drummer and Jack, who's perhaps the most talented musician of the group, is a Sax player and plays several other instruments. The 5th main character of the novel is Anna Montgomery, Gavin's girlfriend and Sasha's half-sister.

St. John-Mandel aptly describes how the love for music and their ability to create a unique sound when playing together is the bind that ties these teenagers together. Although I am far from being a virtuoso guitar player, I can relate to that wonderful feeling of connecting with others through music. When you find other players that "get" you sound and style of music and you get theirs, it creates a very special and unique bond.

Fast forward 10 years, the year is 2009, the economy has collapsed and the word is on the brink of another Great Depression. Gavin Sasaki is now in his late twenties, he's a journalist working for the New York Star and seemed to have a promising career ahead of him.

He's been assigned a story about Florida's exotic wildlife problem. For a whole set of reasons, Gavin isn't too excited about returning to his native South Florida, his inability to tolerate Florida's overwhelming heat for one and the estranged relationship he has with his parents, for another.

Upon returning to his hometown and reconnecting with his sister, Eilo now a real estate broker that specializes is foreclosed properties, shows Gavin a picture of a girl that bears an uncanny resemblance to both of them.

Eventually Gavin gets information that lets him to believe that Anna was already pregnant with his child when she mysteriously disappeared during The Lola's Quarter last high school concert. He strongly suspects that the girl Eilo recently spotted at a foreclosed property is indeed his daughter.

As a resident of South Florida, I think that the author's description of our landscape is spot on. She reliably describes Florida's suburban out of control sprawling, our exotic animal pet invasion (with now more than 56 non-native species firmly established in the Sunshine State) and the foreclosure crisis that more than 6 years into it, is far from over.

After finishing his assignment, Gavin returns to New York, only to be fired when his penchant for embellishing stories is painfully exposed. Following this very public humiliation, Gavin goes back to Florida and settles down with Eilo who has offered a job and a place to stay.

Gavin then becomes obsessed with finding Anna and Chloe, the little girl he believes is his daughter. Mandel skilfully peels back the layers to reveal how each member of the quartet became complicit in a series of bad choices.

What Gavin discovers along the way terrifies him. Anna had gotten herself into serious problems with some seriously bad and scary people. As the mystery unfolds Gavin is forced to make some life changing decisions as well as really take a look at himself and decide what to do about his own future.

The author has as clear talent for creating great stories with flawed characters and find a way to humanize them along the way. Although I didn't feel a strong connection with them, The Lola Quarter's beautiful writing, particularly when it relates to music, was good enough to keep me interested through the end.


Here's Emily St. John Mandel's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Lola Quartet. I highly recommend the piece by Nina Simone:

1. Tomaso Giovani Albinon's Trumpet Concerto in D Minor Op. 9 N° 2. Adagio, performed by Judetul Gorj Chamber Orchestra & Constantin Nicolae
2. "Summertime" – Nina Simone cover/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM_Nb6dpnys
3. "Grace" – Underworld
4. "Shade and Honey" – Sparklehorse
5. "All I Need" – Radiohead
6. "Lucky You" – The National
7. "Bei Mir Bist du Schöen" – Swing Dance Orchestra cover (Album: Live in New York)
8. "Ten Eleven" – Luff
9. "Free Fallin'" – Tom Petty
10. "Maybe It's Just Sleeping" – Luff

( )
  irisper012106 | Nov 1, 2015 |
If someone asked me to summarize the theme of "The Lola Quartet", I’d say there are two that I found: First, choice and consequences; and second, life after high school never lives up to our teen expectations. "The Lola Quartet" presents characters that have made various choices, many originating in high school, and the consequences that unfold and interweave. The second theme, high school expectations, was depressing because it reminded me vividly of what I think we generally expect upon graduation. We have big plans and we hope to make a mark in our world. After graduation, though, most of us get smacked in the face by reality and are reminded of how relatively unimportant we are.

This is the second book I’ve read by Emily St John and I look forward to reading more. She has a way of dealing with characters -- even unlikeable ones -- that gets my interest and keeps me reading long after I should have turned out the light. "The Lola Quartet" has haunted me since I finished it (about three weeks ago). I relive the parts I enjoyed and still get upset with parts I didn’t. That my thoughts keep returning to the book is for me one of the marks of a good book.

I initially gave the book four out of five stars because of the intense impact on my imagination. I’ve subsequently been tempted to revise the rating to three and a half stars because frankly I disagreed with the ending. I would have liked to see a more (for me) satisfying resolution. In the end, I’ve stayed with four stars because the novel has been thought-provoking.

Based on “Station Eleven” and “The Lola Quartet”, I can’t wait to read more by Emily St John Mandel. ( )
  pmackey | Sep 16, 2015 |
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 |
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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
"One of these mornings/
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There's nothing can harm you..."
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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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