17 November 2014
Review: Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel opens with washed up Hollywood actor and tabloid darling Arthur Leander having a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. As a former paparazzo turned paramedic-in-training performs CPR and the curtain is dropped, a young girl watches from the wings as the nice man who gave her comic books only hours before dies. Little does anyone know that the world as they know it has begun to unravel, and nearly everyone in the audience will be gone in mere weeks, dead from a massive flu pandemic.
Years later, a troupe of nomads calling themselves the Traveling Symphony move from settlement to settlement along the Great Lakes through southwestern Ontario and northern Michigan performing music and Shakespeare – harkening back to an earlier time when theatre and the arts was salve to a world reeling from plague. Along the way they encounter pockets of humanity surviving in a world without electricity, gasoline, and medicine; a new generation where the trappings of what was the modern world before it collapsed are fading into history.
Scavenging through abandoned houses among the bones of the dead, Kirsten – who’s only memory of the collapse includes an actor who treated her kindly falling dead on a stage – searches for her fellow actors stolen away from the Traveling Symphony by a mysterious prophet. As the acting troupe and the cult venture to the fabled Museum of Civilization, they discover that they have more than a passing connection stretching back to that fateful performance of King Lear.
I'm conflicted about Station Eleven. I've come to the conclusion that I did like it... and actually liked it quite a lot... but that there were some stylistic things that I really didn't like. So it's a tough one.
I've also been reading the MaddAddam Trilogy at the same time, which is pretty brilliant post-apocalyptic writing, and I haven't been able to help comparing the two worlds. I found Station Eleven quite grounded and a bit more frighteningly plausible in the short term where Atwood really has a fondness for the ridiculous and really goes after the far end of the slippery slope.
I think my big problem with Station Eleven was it seemed to have one too many literary devices going on. Here we are in the past, then the present, then the recent past, now we're reading an interview, now we're back in the third person, now we're in the distant third... and all at sort of random times and duration. Perhaps a more even tone would have elevated the book to what I felt like it should be.
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