Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a total shot in the dark of a read for me - I really had no idea what the book was about except a travelling Shakespearean acting troupe, but due to its popularity and acclaim I decided to give it a read.

Station Eleven follows the story of two main characters at two different times. Arthur Leander is a famous actor playing King Lear on stage in Toronto when he has a heart attack on stage and dies. Kirsten Raymonde is an 8 year old child actress in the play and is on stage when Arthur dies. The same night, though unrelated to why Arthur dies, Toronto falls victim as the next large city infected with the Georgian Flu, a strain of the swine flu virus that kills its victims within 48 hours and is carried through the air. The flu sweeps through the planet, killing off approximately 99% of all humans by the time it's finished. Those who survive are left to wander and scavenge for survival since there are not enough people living to keep things like oil production, electrical plants, food supply, and other essentials to our modern life going. Kirsten is one of the few survivors and the story jumps back and forth from stories of Arthur's past, including his wives and children, to Kirsten as a 28 year old member of a travelling symphony/Shakespeare company that tours the Great Lakes area. Before Arthur died, he gives Kirsten some comic books called Station Eleven which she carries with her as some of her prized possessions. Though things have leveled off in the last 20 years, the travelling symphony still encounters dangerous groups and cults as they wander. The followers of "The Prophet" end up being the most detrimental to their troupe. The group finally ends up at The Museum of Civilization in the Severn City airport, giving their contributions to keep things of the past in the memory of all who visit the museum.

This was a very interesting take on the post-apocalyptic pandemic idea. It felt very plausible most of the time, considering that it wasn't that things didn't exist anymore - just that people didn't exist with the knowledge or man power to operate them. The story about Arthur's life is a little ... eh. Arthur is a very selfish man who only realizes that his family is important in the end ... after 3 divorces and a child who lives in Israel that he never sees. Arthur is the classic tale of "learning what's important too late" because he dies before he can turn things around and improve his relationships. Kirsten's story shows what people are able to do to survive, while still holding on to various aspects of the past to give us something worth surviving for. The book was well written and certainly kept me interested. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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