Book Review

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

StationElevenDAY ONE

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.

News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

WEEK TWO

Civilization has crumbled.

YEAR TWENTY

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

STATION ELEVEN

Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.

It feels like I’ve been seeing buzz for this book online for months, though I’m sure it’s actually just been a few weeks. When the publisher offered advance eBook copies for the longest day of the year I jumped at the chance to find out for myself why everyone was so excited about this book.

The first part of the book feels a little like it’s telling a number of discrete stories from different time periods – whilst I knew they would come together at some point I had no idea how this would happen. This only added to my desire to keep reading, this book is definitely one that’ll glue you to your seat! There is no one main character, instead a number of characters are focused on throughout the book. I love ensemble casts when they’re done well, and this book definitely pleased on that front.

The book covers a number of time periods; you have the contemporary story set in year 20 (time is now measured post the flu epidemic that wipes out much of the world’s population), and then a number of past settings including the time just around the flu epidemic and then earlier in some of the characters lives too. I found this easy to navigate, it’s always clear when the events on the page are unfolding and I really liked the way reading another few pages would add a little more backstory to one or more characters and I would feel like I understood them that little bit more. I particularly enjoyed the way that seemingly small inconsequential mentions of things would reappear later in the story and gain more significance.

The non-linear nature of this book also gave me moments where I had to stop and think a bit about what I had just read, memory is such an important part of this book – some of the characters are old enough to remember what life was life before the flu whereas others aren’t. A number of the characters in the contemporary story have connections to the Museum of Civilisation – a collection of things that held importance to individuals, whether a gadget or a stunning pair of shoes. I thought this act of remembering was so interesting, civilisation has changed so completely yet there is this desire to remember what was and will likely never be again.

The arts also play a significant role in the book. The opening section is set in a theatre where a production of King Lear is underway, just prior to the flu epidemic. Much of the contemporary story telling focuses on a travelling band of performers, both classical musicians and Shakespearean actors. When we live in a time where funding for the arts is frequently in the first swathe of cuts to be made when savings are deemed necessary I found the emphasis on the enduring passion for an value of the arts to be really meaningful. There’s a definite exploration of what the arts mean to us, what they do for us and why we try our hardest to cling to them.

This book is a fascinating, thought provoking, gripping read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Definitely a book to look out for.

Station Eleven will be published on 10th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

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