Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel

selevenOne snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Find the book on Goodreads.

There is a lot of hype surrounding this book but I was initially drawn in by the amazing cover on Netgalley.  I’m pleased I was able to receive this book for review because I might not have picked it up for years otherwise, believing it to be wordy and windy and dull.  (Spoiler alert, it was none of these things.)  Every review you see is using words like ‘mysterious’ and ‘glittering’ and ‘elegant’, and to say that I was intrigued to see how a book about the apocalypse could be described as any of these, is an understatement.

Another common thought that comes up in the reviews is that this book is very character focused and that not a whole lot happens in the way of plot.  I found it handy to know this going in, but interestingly I was half way through the book before I stopped to realise this for myself.  Honestly, I was hooked from the very beginning, but that was definitely helped by the fact that I was in Toronto last month and now live an hour away from the city… so things were hitting a little close to home for a while there.  It was nice to read about a post-apocalyptic world in which there were no zombies or war or nuclear fall out, or anything like that.  Just people trying to be people, trying to maintain some semblance of life as it was.

I know I’m not the most critical reviewer going around, so a lot of the literary themes and whatnot – though I noticed and appreciated them – are a little lost on me.  But I did really, really, love the STATION ELEVEN comic and I became nearly as obsessed with discovering its origins as Kirsten was.  The loneliness and the vastness of the landscape so perfectly mirrors the world twenty years on from the epidemic, and the lives of those living there, and it’s just so melancholy, and lyrical, and symbolic, and lovely.  What struck me most were those scenes in which the older characters, those old enough to remember the world as it was, debated the merits of teaching their children about that world.  And the children’s reactions to the description of what we consider everyday things, like air conditioning and computers.

I enjoyed the fluidity with which the book changed perspectives.  I wanted to know more about Jeevan, and I spent a good deal of time wondering when he’d make a reappearance.  And Clark!  I went the whole book thinking he was a boring background character but by the end I wanted a whole spin off novel just about him.  The writing is so pretty, and the characters roll on (past and present) at their own, totally unhurried, speed.  It’s a hard book to explain and recommend to others, but I enjoyed my time with it.

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