Remember when I stated that in all of 2016, I didn’t read a book that ended up on my favorites ever list?
The first book I read in 2017: on that list.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was lovely and insightful and fascinating and tense and thought-provoking and just wonderful.
The (long) synopsis, from Goodreads:
An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Twenty years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, 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.
So. I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction. (So long as it doesn’t contain zombies; to each our own, I personally just do not like zombies.) (Although I did like I Am Legend. So maybe I just don’t like The Walking Dead.) Stripping everything away from people and seeing what they do afterwards is one of my favorite things to explore in fiction–so much so that that’s the subject of the first two books I wrote (on a WAY smaller scale).
Reasons to Read This Book:
1. The Premise Ever since reading The Stand, I’ve thought about my role in a post-apocalyptic world. (That’s normal, right?) I would be pretty useless. I know nothing about doctoring, or building, or technology reparations, or even gardening. The thing I do–write–would be a tertiary concern. So I love that here, our protagonists are not doctors or farmers or any people concerned with the practical means of survival, but musicians and actors.
This book even makes my list of life lessons I’ve learned from fiction, and if I were to get a tattoo, the below quote–written on the Traveling Symphony’s caravan–would be it:
Because survival is insufficient.
2. The Time Shifts At first I was annoyed to be pulled out of the story I was reading to get into another story–but then each new story was so engaging, I didn’t care. (A similar post-apocalyptic series, Justin Cronin’s The Passage–which is actually referenced in the text of this novel!–employs a similar tactic.) Each section of the story was just so engaging, it was hard to leave it, but each time, you were thrown into another engaging thing, so soon it didn’t matter.
3. The Tension Some parts are lyrical and literary and lovely–and other parts are so tense I nearly missed my metro stop while reading them. When the Traveling Symphony first encounters the prophet and the scenes that follow… but no spoilers. Just read it.
4. The Writing The prose is just perfect.
“But these thoughts broke apart in his head and were replaced by strange fragments: This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air. Finally whispering the same two words over and over: “Keep walking. Keep walking. Keep walking.”
Reasons to Not Read This Book
My only negative is this: I wanted more of it. And I don’t mean that in a I-want-more-Harry-Potter kind of way. Harry Potter as a series was wonderful and while it would be great to have more to read, I think it ended perfectly and there’s nothing more that needs to be added to it. But this book left a good amount of threads hanging, some characters just slightly underdeveloped, and some questions unanswered. I’m sure that was intentional, but I just wanted more.
Still, 9/10 stars. Beautiful, beautiful book.
Image found here