Civilization has collapsed, wiped out by a deadly flu. Those who survive are left to ponder what now? Strip humanity of everything they love, everything they take for granted and what will they become? What lengths will they go to survive.
"What choice do I have? You know how this . . . this time we live in, you know how it forces a person to do things." -- Pg. 292
I wanted to believe the hype surrounding Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel but....I just don't. This was the hot book two years ago. I read nothing but glowing reviews on blogs, Goodreads, newspapers, and magazines. I bought the book two years, but didn't actually read it until recently. As I read this, I definitely saw the depth and creativity of the author's writing. But I just wasn't getting what made this book so great. Is something wrong with me? What am I missing? What am I not getting?
It all begins on a theater stage in Toronto. Actor Arthur Leander, famous for his many ex-wives and a favorite target for the paparazzi, is performing King Lear. The play has barely begun before Arthur collapses on stage from an apparent heart attack. Former gossip photographer turned EMT Jeevan Chaudhary leaps into action to help Arthur, but it's all for naught. Arthur dies. He dies the same night the Georgian flu spreads across the globe. In a panic, Jeevan buys out the grocery store and cocoons himself and his brother, Frank, in an apartment. Not everyone is as lucky as Jeevan. People die trying to evade the outbreak. Slowly, everyday life breaks down. Electricity becomes a thing of the past. Running water becomes a thing of the past. All the modern conveniences that people take for granted become a thing of the past.
Fifteen years after the outbreak, the people who remain are scattered in various factions. Kirsten, a former child actor, is part of the Traveling Symphony. They're a group of actors and musicians who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare. It sounds weird to be performing when life has become so hopeless for so many. But entertainment, however brief, is a welcome distraction from the people they've become. What kind of people are left on Earth? The kind that mark their kills with tattoos on their arms. The kind that create a new civilization in an abandoned airport. And, in one small town, the kind of people that follow a self-appointed prophet. A prophet who spouts Bible phrases, thinks women are sexual property, and demands obedience -- or suffer the consequences.
This is a non-linear narrative, and that's probably my biggest problem with this book. I'm not against non-linear books, but it didn't work for me here. I was often re-reading passages because I wasn't always sure when things were taking place. There are also big gaps for some of the characters. Jeevan's story takes prominence for the first couple of chapters, but then we don't hear from him again for nearly two hundred pages. Frustrating! I wanted to know more about him. I connected with his character early on, but then I found myself not really caring once Jeevan appeared again. Despite dying in the first chapter, Arthur is a big part of the novel. What led to him becoming a scandal-prone actor and eventually his demise plays prominently throughout the book. Somehow Arthur's life has touched everyone from his friends, like Clark, to his ex-wives, to his son, Tyler, and to Kirsten.
This was a display of imaginative storytelling, but it seems so reminiscent of works that already existed before this. The Walking Dead and Hunger Games come to mind, featuring characters I care about. I didn't really find myself caring about the characters in Station Eleven. I found myself a little bored, wondering when the point was going to manifest itself and it never did.