The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel

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Gavin Sasaki is 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 in foreclosed homes.

Eilo recently paid a visit to a home that had a ten-year-old child in it, a child who looks very much like Gavin and who has the same last name as Gavin’s high school girlfriend Anna, whom Gavin last saw a decade ago. Gavin—a former jazz musician, a reluctant broker of foreclosed properties, obsessed with film noir and private detectives—begins his own private investigation in an effort to track down Anna and their apparent daughter who have been on the run all these years from a drug dealer from whom Anna stole $121,000.

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Like a lot of people I’ve seen talking about this book, I was brought to The Lola Quartet through a love of Station Eleven. I will say that if you’re going into it looking for a similar story, you’re going to be disappointed, but if you’re looking for more of Emily St John Mandel’s well-crafted characters and engaging writing style, you won’t go far wrong.

The Lola Quartet consists of Jack, Daniel, Sasha, and Gavin, all musicians in their senior year of high school, and Gavin’s girlfriend, Anna. The story isn’t told chronologically, so we only get glimpses of them in high school, meaning this doesn’t read YA, as the majority of the story is told ten years later when they are all adults. This format really worked well for me, and I found that I enjoyed slowly building up each of these characters through their points of view and different ages.

Growing up and loss of innocence are main themes in this book, and I think it was done incredibly well. I’ve never read a book that seemed almost like a neo-noir, something that the book seems to be aware of but doesn’t overdo. Gavin believes he is born in the wrong era, growing up watching crime noirs and wanting to be a private detective, but Mandel does a great job of showing how the real world likes to laugh at fantasies like Gavin’s. He ends up being a journalist for a failing newspaper, and he is just the first of the characters we are introduced to facing redundancy, budget cuts, and uncertainty. His progression as a character and the cyclical nature of it all was just very, very clever.

It’s a tone that is carried throughout the book (though maybe dwindled a little towards the end), and it really worked. The bleak and impersonal combined with the highly personal really got through to me. Not only that, it gave the book a whole new dimension. We don’t just have the Lola Quartet and Anna and the main narrative, we have this interesting and important backdrop that informs so many of the character’s actions.

One thing I will say is not to go into The Lola Quartet expecting a book about the friendship between these four people. Friendship is there, for sure, but the story isn’t about them being best friends against the world. They formed the band for the music, not because they loved each other, and it is mentioned that they weren’t that close even in high school. I enjoyed this element because I found it to be very realistic, but if I started reading with the expectation of an epic found family friend group, I would be disappointed. Just something to bear in mind!

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IF YOU LIKE:
  • Character-driven stories
  • Imperfect characters
  • Neo-Noirs
  • Theme of growing up and loss of innocence
  • Musical elements‪
  • To be able to read in one sitting

Then this book could be for you!

 

IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF:
  • TW: drug use, body trauma, mention of suicide, child abuse, redundancy
  • Multiple POVs
  • Time jumps
  • Darker stories

Then you may not enjoy this one.

I really enjoyed The Lola Quartet and have added the rest of Emily St John Mandel’s books to my TBR!


Have you read The Lola Quartet or anything else by Emily St John Mandel? Let me know in the comments and we can chat!

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