That’s What She Read: Station Eleven

It was hard not to see something about “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel this fall, as it seemed to be written up or reviewed everywhere.  Book buzz is lots of fun and great for book sales, but publicity does not always mean the book is a good reador in any way memorable. I’m happy to say, however, that “Station Eleven”is not only compulsively readable, buteerily memorable, as well.

The story weaves back and forth in time before and after “The Event,” a sudden virulent flu that wipes out most of mankind. The novel begins with a jolt: during a performance of King Lear, famous Hollywood actor, Arthur Leander, suffers a heart attack and dies despite the efforts of audience member and EMT Jeevan Chaudhary.  Eight-year-old Kirsten Raymonde, the girl who played Lear’s daughter and was attached to Arthur is distraught.She has to be comforted by Tanya, another cast member who gives Kirsten a paperweight to distract her from her grief.

We learn that Arthur has three ex-wives and an estranged son.In fact, one of his ex-wives was an artist who wrote, illustrated and privately published a sci-fi graphic novel called “Station Eleven.”The plot follows the interwoven adventures of Kirsten and Arthur’s family as they cope with the total collapse of society and find ways to survive in the harsh post-flu world.  Intricately plotted and complex, the story slowly reveals the links that connect this motley group of survivors and the characters they meet to Kirsten’s paperweight and the ragged copy of “Station Eleven”turning up repeatedly, symbolically tying together the various threads of the time-twisting narrative.

It was a challenge to keep the story and characters straight in my mind, especially since I did not read the book in one sitting.But it was a worthwhile endeavor. I became completely immersed in the strange post-apocalyptic world where children marvel at the notion that the night was once lit up by streetlights and are told stories about something magical called the internet that once connected everyone.  Kirsten’s adventures with the Travelling Symphony, which tours what’s left of society, offering music and theatre “because survival is insufficient,”lead her to a group of survivors living in an abandoned airport anchored by Arthur’s childhood friend Clark Thompson.  The book comes full circle and ends on a lovely hopeful note, as Kristen, who’s always been fascinated by the idea of artificial light, sees lights from another distant settlement ablaze in the sky over the airport settlement.

I am not normally a big fan of dystopian fiction, but Igive this novelthumbs up and a tell-all-your-friends positive endorsement.

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