Old School Wednesdays is a regular Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: Post-apocalyptic Lit
Publication date: First published 2014
Paperback: 336 pages
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 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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
This is another entry in a series of Old School Wednesdays posts, brought to you by the amazing folks who supported us on Kickstarter. As one reward level, backers were given the opportunity to pick an Old School title for one of us to read and review online.
I am super glad for the chance to finally read Station Eleven. This quiet, introspective post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St John Mandel made a huge splash when it first came out four years ago (goodness, has it been four years already?) and our own Thea loved it a whole lot.
I ended up really enjoying it too – especially because I read it soon after reading The Book of M by Peng Shepherd, which is also a post-apocalyptic novel with a huge focus on the question of memory, a theme that appears a lot in Station Eleven. I will be writing about The Book of M soon but for now, suffice it to say that I found both reads to complement each other really well, although The Book of M is firmly a Horror Fantasy novel.
But I digress.
Survival is insufficient.
Station Eleven is a multi-layered, non-linear story featuring a plethora of characters whose tales beautifully interweave from past to present. With a very interesting omniscient narrative that often grapples with the knowledge of the future fall of mankind even as the story is still in the past.
It opens with an on-stage death of actor Arthur Leander just as he plays the role of a lifetime – King Lear. His death happens only a few days away from when patient zero first dies of a virus that will kill 99.9% of mankind. Jeevan, the paramedic that tries to save Arthur’s life has just found his true calling after many years as a paparazzi (when coincidently, Arthur was one of his most famous subjects) when the world ends. We follow him in the first few days of the end, just as he follow him when he was still a paparazzi taking pictures of Arthur’s first wife, Miranda. Miranda is many things in the story but she is also the creator and writer of “Station Eleven”, a comic book with only a few copies still in existence. Two of its issues are two of Kirsten’s only treasured possessions, a connection to a world that is on longer. They were given to her by Arthur Leander, when she was a child actor on that same fateful King Lear play.
Two decades after the end, Kirsten is an actor with the Travelling Symphony, an itinerant troupe of actors and musicians, a found family of nameless individuals who found one another in the midst of tragedy. Together they travel from community to community bringing a little bit of joy, a little bit of kept memory to those who want. They also come across dangers, one of them a self-proclaimed Prophet.
In the remains of an old airport, Arthur Leander’s old friend Clark found a life for himself and is creating a Museum to collect remnants from the past – the museum is for the future generations, but also for those who still remember.
Survival is insufficient.
When the world ends, what are the things that we hang on to? In the new world of the novel, this is one of the questions that we come back to over and over again.
There are those survivors who prefer to let the past go – instead of reminiscing about what has gone and will never come back, they look at the future. There are those like Kirsten that have a fascination for elements of the old world but on a personal level, prefer to not remember what happened to her in that first year after the fall. Interestingly it was Arthur’s letting go of his past that kick-starts a chain of events with a few of his possessions passing on to other people down the line.
Through these characters and these events, we see the effect of memory and of history, of wanting to keep going and waiting. Even the characters of “Station Eleven”, the comic, are doing the same. The are asking if survival is sufficient.
Even though there certainly are dangers, tragedies big and small, death and fight for survival, this is a quiet, introspective novel. With its prose, the non-linear narrative, the interwoven stories, it is also a beautiful one.
Rating: 8 – Excellent