Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

***** 5 Stars

This is one of those books that I have been hearing so many wonderful things about. It has the most amazing cover and I just couldn't wait to get started but I wanted to read it at a time when I could give it pretty much my full attention. So it came with me on my weekend break to Center Parcs. Let me just say it didn't disappoint.

The Blurb


The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.

News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.


Civilization has crumbled.


A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.


Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan - warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world.

My Thoughts

This was one of those books that I had to set my alarm to finish early on Sunday morning. This is one of those books that I just cannot quite find the words to describe. It left me with new favourite and has headed right into my top 10 reads of the year so far. It is a quiet, understated read about what would happen if a pandemic swept the globe and wiped out the majority of the population. It is a book about what happens to those left behind and what happens to civilization as we know it.

The book starts out on one snowy night in Toronto when Hollywood actor, Arthur Leander, is performing the title role on stage in a production of King Lear. Unfortunately he collapses and dies that night on stage but throughout the rest of the books he is the one common denominator that ties the rest of the characters together. The central characters in the book are Jeevan Chaudary, the journalist turned trainee paramedic who tries in vain to save Arthur. Kirsten Raymonde, a child actor performing in King Lear with Arthur who watches from the wings as Arthur dies. Arthur's first of three wives, Miranda and he's oldest friend, Clark.

What none of the characters know is that the night Arthur dies is also Day One of the Georgia Flu, a day that will change all of their lives forever. The flu kills quickly and only a handful of people survive. The book has two main story lines what happens just prior to the collapse and what is happening to our central characters twenty years after - this is known as Year Twenty. Throughout the book we do get some flashbacks to the past - a past where Arthur has just met Miranda and a look at their marriage and how things go wrong and a past that looks at how life has been for our main characters during the days & years after the collapse.

After the pandemic, those who survive are left in a world without electricity, without internet & gadgets, a world where there are no pharmaceuticals so even the simplest cut can kill you, a world where you have to hunt for your food and where you have to kill to survive. All material things are pretty much lost or are of no use and Mandel uses the themes of art and music as small comfort to those who are left. It looks at the price of fame and the impact it has on famous people's loved ones.

In the Year Twenty, life is much more settled for the survivors, the early years after the collapse had been the most dangerous. People are still cautious but it is a much safer place that in the early days. Kirsten, hooked up with the Travelling Symphony in the early years and has been travelling with them from settlement to settlement performing Shakespeare and concerts. However there is a new danger on the horizon and that comes in the form of the prophet. He threatens to change the new way of life that the survivors have become used to.

Mandel puts you right at the centre of the book, she makes you feel as though you are there and leaves you wondering what things would be like if such a pandemic did sweep the globe. On the morning I finished the book I spent a few hours relaxing in a spa and found my thoughts kept drifting back to Station Eleven. It really is one of those books that you want to tell everyone about, that you want to insist that everyone reads.

I love that Mandel draws parallels with Shakespeare. King Lear, was one of the plays I studied for my English Literature A Level, it was also one that I enjoyed and it was wonderful to see it used. During Shakespeare's time there was the plague and plays and performances were a great source of entertainment and the parallels to the world in Station Eleven after the flu was not lost on me.

Overall I found Station Eleven to be a beautiful and haunting read that looks at relationships and how people survive. It is one of those books that needs no swear words, no real violence, no blood and guts to tell it's story, instead Mandel relies totally on the beauty of her words and her the stories of her central character. I can't praise this book highly enough and encourage everyone to read it and be swept along with it.

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