Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

"Station Eleven" by Emily St.John Mandel (Picador, 2014)

Spoiler Alert

At the start a child, Kirsten Raymonde, is present when an actor, Arthur Leander, dies on stage, while artificial snow's falling. Jeevan Chaudhary rushes onstage to give him CPR. Snow's falling outside. Soon we're 15 years into the future in a post-apocalyptic, lawless world, following a group of travelling players performing Shakespeare and music concerts. Kirsten's one of the players. She collects celeb trivia about Arthur when scavenging. She also has a graphic novel written by Arthur's first wife, Miranda. Chapter 6 lists some of the losses - "No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help ... No more avatars". They're nostalgic about fridges, planes, air conditioning, and sports floodlights so bright you couldn't stare at them.

The book flicks between timelines - the players; Arthur's life and wives (before becoming an itinerant, famous actor he grew up on an island); Jeevan's survival of the epidemic and how he settled; Clark's survival (Clark was Arthur's best friend. His flight when the epidemic hit was diverted to Severn City airport which was where he stayed, collecting hi-tech memorabilia).

The future timeline ends with many of the characters connected to Leander congregating at the airport. At night, from the top of the nine storey control tower, Kirsten sees a distant city, electrically illuminated. The book ends by following Arthur from his final breakfast to his death, repeated with augmented detail.

The timelines have similarities - paparazzi in one, lookouts in another; the Dr Eleven comic containing characters and settings familiar to some of the readers.

The characters are aware of some post-apocalyptic movies - "the post-apocalyptic movies she'd seen had all involved zombies. 'I'm just saying,' she said, 'it could be much worse.'". It's a good read, though I didn't think there was anything special about the pre-virus parts.

Other reviews

  • Justine Jordan (Guardian) (Station Eleven is not so much about apocalypse as about memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning; the effort of art to deepen our fleeting impressions of the world and bolster our solitude)
  • Janet Maslin (New York Times) (ultimately, “Station Eleven” isn’t very tough. And its biggest scares come early, without much follow-through. No doubt the author’s lack of interest in eliciting conventional responses helps explain her National Book Award nomination, but this is not one of the year’s bolder or more soul-plumbing books)
  • David Barnett (Independent) (Mandel deviates from the usual and creates what is possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read)
  • Simon Savidge
  • Adrian Slatcher
  • Katie Lumsden

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the best books I have ever read. You don’t need to like dystopia or post-apocalyptica stories to enjoy this book. It is not just a book about the survivors, although the story would not be the same without them. This is a story about the loved and the lost. It is a book I will carry with me. I am so grateful I was able to find it.

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