Slate asks, "What happens when literary novelists experiment with science fiction."
I answer, "Lots of wonderful things."
Well having a week off has allowed me the time I wouldn't usually have to get through this one. I enjoyed it, it was in parts profound. I enjoyed the focus on the artistic, technological and cultural losses humanity would take in the event of population wipe-out. I think Cormac McCarthy's The Road touches on something similar in parts a bit more subtly. This one is slightly guilty in my opinion of hammering the point home a bit too much at times, but it's for the most part done well.
The structure is slightly odd, in that it zips from the current time to the future after a killer flu has wiped out 99 percent of the population and then back to people's memories before the outbreak. There are often sections of a character's experiences played out at different points along their life and to pull it all together into some form of a cohesive structure takes a lot of patience and skill. I think that's what I liked about Mandel's novel, it was calmly done, well-paced and pretty feasible for the most part. An issue I have with fantasy sometimes is it is easy for an author to over reach and sometimes it leads an otherwise good story down a silly path to the point where it’s tough to take it seriously any more. I think if you wish to be a fantasy writer you must master the ability to make people believe that the world you have fashioned is the world that they themselves live, take it a touch too far and it’s easy to extinguish the plausibility.
The other thing that can happen is the story just begins to unravel and lose where its heading to under the weight of the ambition of the world build. I think this happened with GOT (sorry if you love those books/show). Again mostly I think Mandel gets the balance right with this one, there are ideas, particularly with the character of the prophet and his twisted theological cult that could have been fleshed out further. His character is ultimately weak and one dimensional. Additionally, Jeevan Choudhary, who we think will be the main protagonist at the start of the book, just kind of fizzles out as the book progresses. His story line seems full of promise and then he kind of gets written out as though the author doesn't really know what to do with him once he has served his purpose.
But then conversely some of the characters like Clarke, Arthur, Miranda and Kirsten are deep and promising. I loved the air terminal as a setting towards the latter stages and liked the idea of a travelling symphony playing music and acting out old plays in an abandoned wilderness. I was fairly engrossed for most of it, with only a few sections here or there that I almost drifted through.
One of its strengths for me was that I found a lot of what Mandel was trying to say about the world and the people in it resonated with my own opinions and experiences. I kind of feel like elements of what are in there would probably come out in a similar way If I was to write a novel and I think feeling some sort of connection with the author on this level always helps.
Not to mention that it is different and welcomed in an oft-times (sorry probably all the mention of Shakespeare in this one creeping in) hackneyed genre. I will have to see if any of the premises of her other works appeal to me, because she has a lot of potential in my opinion.
Picked this up to take a break from the heaviness of the Enlightenment book that I was reading and have enjoyed it enough to plough through 155 pages in a day or two.
What can I say, I'm a sucker for apocalyptic novels.
It's a weird structure as well, I'll probably write about that more If I write a review for it, but the first book to have won a ACC award that I'll have read. That's probably a bit criminal.
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.
Because survival is insufficient
I am vasilating between 4 and 5 stars for this novel, one of the best post-apocalyptic stories that I have encountered. Being a fan of Shakespeare, I had to love it, especially as I am also a fan of Star Trek. The references to both made it irresistible.
I also can appreciate the nods to Stephen King’s The Stand, which is one of his most loved books. However, I prefer Station Eleven because it doesn’t draw the lines between good and evil quite as starkly as King did, and because it acknowledges that this pandemic is a worldwide problem and doesn’t limit the story to the United States.
I am struck by all the links between the actor, Arthur, and the role he was acting, King Lear. Lear had three daughters, Arthur has three ex-wives. In Lear, everyone linked back to the King. Everyone of significance in Station Eleven links back to Arthur: Clark, his best friend; Miranda (The Tempest?), his first wife; Tyler/The Prophet, his son; Kirsten, one of the child actresses on stage the night that he died. It is Arthur’s funeral which draws all of them (except Miranda) to North America just before the pandemic puts an end to air travel. Arthur and Tyler both pursue lives focused on their own vision, letting others fall by the wayside as they go. The Prophet, like so many religious leaders before him (Jim Jones, David Koresh, etc.) claims the right to multiple wives. So did his father, but he generally divorced one upon choosing the next. And I cannot ignore that Arthur dies at about the same age as Shakespeare himself, fifty two.
I found it hopeful that so many of the characters devoted themselves to preserving knowledge—The Traveling Symphony, with their attached Shakespearean repertory, Clark’s Museum of the world before the pandemic, Miranda’s Dr. Eleven comic books that Kirsten carefully preserves. In fact, those comic books represent holy scripture to both Kirsten and to Tyler, with much different results.
At the book’s end, I was left feeling uplifted rather than depressed. I shall have to read it again, in a couple of years, making this a special book for me.
Read by candlelight to fill a square on my Halloween Book Bingo Card.
It has been a frustrating week. I accidentally purged my "I'm annoyed about..." brain file this morning at coffee with my work friends. What has been heard cannot be unheard. They tell me I should do stand up. I think I'll go back to trying to keep my opinions to myself.
But tonight, I'm breaking out the candles to read Station Eleven for Halloween Book Bingo!
Good leftovers for supper? Check!
Wine in the fridge? Check!
Excellent reading material on hand? Check!
Plus, the paving on my route to & from work (not to mention that its right outside my bedroom window) should be done by next week, meaning that I will be cussing much less in days to come.