Station Eleven

Last week, I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Going in, I was a bit fuzzy on what the book was about. It was a library book, and I expected to read a few pages and decide it wasn’t for me. But it hooked me completely!

It’s post-apocalyptic; the world has been utterly changed by the Georgian flu that killed over 99% of the population. But we start in present-day Toronto at a production of King Lear, and the death of a character who ties most of the people on the page together. There’s a lot of movement in time, and a number of characters to follow, and Mandel handles this well.

I mostly seem to read books where the time flows forward from point A (beginning) to point B (end), with the occasional flash-forward prologue or a double timeline of past and present. This was more complicated, and I think it can be difficult to do well without breaking the fictive dream. But Mandel was very effective—and used what I believe you’d call omniscient point of view, which I also enjoyed.

One of the main characters is Kirsten and you get to see her at different points in her life, some of it quite revealing. The main focus of the post-apocyptic world is the Travelling Symphony, which wanders around the Great Lakes area performing Shakespeare and music. It’s a pretty intimate book; the world-building worked for me but isn’t a big focus. Kirsten’s ex-boyfriend Sayid is probably my favorite character, and he’s barely on the page (though perhaps has some of the best lines).

I guessed one reveal, but I don’t think that was difficult to do or that the author was trying to make it a big surprise. I thought the climactic scene was very well done and surprisingly affecting, and a lot of that had to do with Doctor Eleven/Station Eleven, a SF comic book/graphic novel that Kirsten is emotionally attached to, and that few people have ever heard of. (Unlike Star Trek, which is a bit of cultural touchstone for one of the characters—who I also liked a lot.)

Engaging voice, subtle humor, compassionate—I really liked this one.

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