Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel


Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel


Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.



Review: Judging by the Goodreads reviews, a lot of people have incorrect expectations about this book. It’s not the people’s fault. I think the synopsis is misleading and makes the story sound much more action-packed than it really is. This is definitely literary fiction. It’s slow-paced, character-driven, and reflective. The majority of the story happens before the apocalypse. If you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably like this book. If you’re looking for a fast-paced post-apocalyptic novel, then you should probably look elsewhere.

The apocalypse begins with a famous Shakespearean actor dropping dead in the middle of a performance. Then, a deadly pandemic sweeps across the globe. We follow a group of characters who were connected with the actor. The reader meets two of the actor’s ex-wives, his son, his best friend, his young costar in the play, and the paparazzo who made a living following him around. For twenty years after the apocalypse, these characters’ paths cross and re-cross until two of them meet in a final deadly battle.

“No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.” – Station Eleven


If the apocalypse happened right this second, what elements of human culture would you want to preserve? That’s mostly what this book made me think about. Since parts of the story take place twenty years after the apocalypse, there is a whole generation of young characters who never knew the pre-plague world. How would you want them to remember us? Would you preserve our art and culture? Our religions? Our technology? Our passports and ID cards? Random objects that may have only been meaningful to one person?

What I love most about this book is how the author uses important objects to weave the story threads together. It shows how our relationship with our “stuff” changes as our circumstances change. What seems insignificant now can become treasured later. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there’s a mundane object that’s repurposed in bizarre ways after the apocalypse. It provides a very creative plot twist.

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.” – Station Eleven


I can see why this book has won so many awards. It’s well-written and brilliantly structured. I’m a structure junkie who’s read a lot of books with unusual structures, so I appreciate the work that went into Station Eleven. This novel is nonlinear with multiple points-of-view. It takes an extremely talented author to pull that off without leaving the reader confused.

Even though I like the book overall, there are two elements of it that I didn’t love: the characters and the plot.

I never felt connected to the characters. The prophet is creepy, but I didn’t find any of the characters very compelling. Before the apocalypse, most of them are rich people with relationship problems. After the apocalypse, they spend most of their time wandering around. I guess they’re realistic, but I’m not interested in wandering or rich people problems. If you like learning about the lives of famous people, then you might feel differently.

 “They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.” – Station Eleven


The plot also left me slightly disappointed. Most of the plague books I’ve read follow the exact same plot. Basically, if you’ve read The Stand by Stephen King, you can predict the plot of many plague books. First there’s a disease, then the characters wander around, then they form nomadic societies, then they form bigger societies, then they rebuild the world. I was hoping Station Eleven would deviate from that plot, but it didn’t.

Literary fiction is one of my favorite genres, so overall, I enjoyed Station Eleven. It’s worth reading for the structure alone. Just make sure you’re going into it with the correct expectations.







14 comments:

  1. I have this book on my kindle. I have been meaning to read it for a while now....After reading this review I think I will get to it soon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've heard a lot of good things about this one. It's really interesting that there are parts that are set 20 years after the apocalypse- most of the books I've read are either set a week after, or, like, 160 years after. It would be interesting to explore a world where some people remember the pre-apocalypse world, but not everyone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I really liked the time period. It’s not one I’ve seen before.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  3. I liked this one but definitely though it would be a little quicker and more action. Still I thought it was interesting. Glad you enjoyed it too. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I thought it would have more action, too.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  4. I don't think this is a humorous book, but I can image using this "prompt" to create a few laughs: "The apocalypse begins with a famous Shakespearean actor dropping dead in the middle of a performance." Maybe I'm sick...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, it’s not a humorous book, but everything becomes a little warped and hilarious inside my head . . .

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  5. Thought about reading this one. Glad you kinda cleard that up about expectations too, I got the impression this wasn't so much about post- apocalyptic drama and more about these specific people and their issues. I do like the questions though about what parts of culture to preserve and treasure. Not sure if I'll read it but nice to see your thoughts on it. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I must be in minority, because I love slow-paced books. I don`t care as much about action as I care about character development and from what I`ve seen, this is a book I would highly enjoy.

    http://www.carmensreadingcorner.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  7. I went to a cool local bookstore in Asheville, NC, a few months ago and they had one of those "Blind Date with a Book" shelves. They wrap each book in paper and write on them things like, "Choose if you like pirates, adventure, and blah blah blah," or adjectives to describe the book. Well, I got this one. It has great reviews so I'm looking forward to it for the most part, but I'm curious about what it's going to be like. I've read a lot of dystopians and I can tell that this one will be different. Thanks for this review!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love your review! Thorough and yes - it is well structured (just as you would like it!).

    ReplyDelete
  9. 'if you’ve read The Stand by Stephen King, you can predict the plot of many plague books' - yeah, but people'll have to get through 1000+ pages first ;)

    ReplyDelete

I do a happy dance every time I get a comment. (You should be grateful that you’re not around to witness this dance. It’s truly horrifying.) Leave a link to your blog so I can visit you.