Friday, March 6, 2015

Station Eleven

Title:  Station Eleven
Author:  Emily St. John Mandel
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0385353308 / 978-0385353304

Book Source:  I read the book based on its publicity.

Opening Sentence:  "The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored."

Favorite Quote:  "If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there's nothing that you cannot justify. There's nothing you can't survive, because there's nothing that you will not do."

This book starts with a Shakespeare play on stage in Toronto in a world as we know it and ends up with Shakespeare plays in makeshift theaters in a post-apocalyptic world I hope we never know.

On this certain night in Toronto, actor Arthur Leander dies on stage while performing as King Lear. On this same night, a virus arrives in North America via an airline passenger. Within days, the world is decimated. A pandemic ravages most of the population of the Earth and causes civilization as we know it to disappear.

Fifteen to Twenty years later, bands of survivors create new lives in a world with no infrastructure. Some settle in one place. Others move from place to place, eking out a living. The Traveling Symphony brings the joy of music and theater to the small settlements.

To some extent, the book describes itself in the statement of one of the characters. "A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films." The story weaves through past and present in nine sections which are further divided into a total of fifty five chapters. Given the length of the book, this makes each chapter relatively short. The short chapters from several different perspectives and time periods create essentially a series of vignettes. Not all the characters are directly connected, but they all create a far-reaching web with Arthur Leander at the center.

Through all the characters, certain themes arise and carry through the book. "Survival is insufficient" is a line originally from Star Trek, but in this book, it speaks to the artists both before and after the apocalypse. Before, you have the actors, the musician, and the comic book artists. After, you have the entire Traveling Symphony. Art, joy and beauty are necessities of life beyond just survival.

"Hell is the absence of the people you long for." Memory and longing is the other theme that appears consistently throughout. The memories and longings may be for a loved one who is gone or simply far away; the longings are also for our own past. They are there in Arthur's longing for his son. They are there in Miranda's refrain of "I regret nothing." They are there in the Museum of Civilization, which gathers relics of the world before the pandemic. They are there in the tattoos that mark events in a life.

I am not quite sure why I liked the book as much as I did. The characters do not really develop and the basic plot is relatively simple, but the way in which the story is told captures me. Maybe, it's the circular way in which everything comes back to the link with Arthur Leander. Maybe, it's the way the central themes of memories and of life beyond just survival keep repeating. Maybe it's the hope embodied in the existence of the Traveling Symphony - that regardless of the circumstances, joy and beauty can be found. I don't know, but I do know that I had a hard time putting the book down and was sad when it ended.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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