A Book Review: The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel made waves a few years back with her novel Station Eleven (which I have previously reviewed and loved.) It won the Arthur C. Clark award in 2015. It was on every book table and chart.

However, nowadays, it always irks me whenever I come across her in the bookshop.


Because all of her books are now placed in the sci-fi and fantasy section.

While Station Eleven can be classified as a dystopian sci-fi, the rest of her books are not. In fact, I would argue the Emily St. John Mandel is an author who defies genre entirely – who bounces between contemporary fiction, to thriller, to love story, and back again, all while grabbing hold of your interest and never letting it go.

The Singer’s Gun was Mandel’s first novel. It is not sci-fi. It is not dystopia. As a book, it’s genre is actually quite hard to pin down.

But is it good?


9781447280057the singer-s gun_jpg_259_400
Published by Picador

Anton Waker works in an office: that is the dream he has always wanted. And, for a while, it is what he has. A desk job. A fiance. A cat whom he loves.

And then one random security check turns his world upside down. Before he realises it, he is forced to confront the past he tried so hard to forget, a family who he cannot understand, and a cousin who enlists him on one final job.

A job that will send him to the shores of Italy.

A job that will endanger everything that he’s worked for.

A job that will make sure his life will never be the same…



As with her other novels, Emily St. John Mandel is able to mix ambiguity with action. Anton Waker is an interestingly complex character. A man who grew up loyal to his family, yet estranged. A man who loves his cousin, yet fears her. A man who wants to marry his wife, yet feels unashamed to cheat on her. As the central protagonist to the story,

Mandel does a wonderful job of making us sympathise with the guy: even though he is, technically, a criminal, you can’t help but feel upset when his whole world falls apart. You want him to find the peace he so desperately craves, even if it means he has to do some bad things.

He, as with many of her characters, sits firmly in a grey moral area. One that she uses to intrigue the reader, and one which the reader can’t help but get lost in.

I said at the start of this review that this book is hard to pin down as a genre. And it’s true. One minute, it’s the story of a man losing his wife, the next it’s a thriller with a detective hunting people down, then it is a romance between co-workers, then a psychological thriller: it is all these things, yet the tone is always consistent, always engaging.

Like Anton Waker, The Singer’s Gun is an ambiguous book, balancing on the cross-sections of genre.

The rest of the cast feel real and genuine, the setting is fantastic and sucks you into the world. What more can I say? Emily St. John Mandel is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, even if she is often put in the wrong section of the bookshop.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves enigmas, and wants to answer the following question:

“What would make me give up everything? Love? Loyalty? Or fear?”


Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t pin down? Or maybe you’ve read The Singer’s Gun and have your own thoughts? Leave a comment below, or message me @ERHollands. Sharing is caring! 🙂


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