Wednesday, February 11, 2015

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

This novel has one of the best opening chapters ever.  Arthur Leander, a well-known actor, has a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear.  A paramedic-in-training named Jeevan rushes to help him, but his efforts are ultimately unsuccessful.  Then several of Arthur’s acquaintances congregate in a bar to trade stories about Arthur, and the author stuns us with the promise that all of the people in the conversation will be dead within three weeks.  We soon learn that a deadly flu with an incredibly short incubation time is sweeping the world.  A friend warns Jeevan, who immediately stockpiles food and water and holes up with his disabled brother.  Meanwhile, Clark, a longtime friend of Arthur’s, lands in a Michigan airport after his flight is diverted, due to the epidemic.  All of the main characters are like spokes on a wheel with Arthur as the hub.  In addition to Clark and Jeevan, they include Arthur’s first ex-wife, Miranda, and Kirsten, a child actor.  The action of the novel jumps around in time, covering the characters’ lives both before the epidemic and in the aftermath--a post-apocalyptic society in which none of the infrastructure has survived.  Kirsten belongs to a troupe called the Traveling Symphony, which moves from outpost to outpost giving musical and theatrical performances.  They have a customary route which passes through a town that has now been subjugated to the terroristic rule of a religious nut known as “the prophet,” who threatens anyone who tries to leave without his permission.  Some reviewers have complained that this novel is not dark and frightening enough, given the circumstances, but the prophet and his minions provide enough horror for me.  The author does a wonderful job of keeping hope alive for both characters and readers, and, despite the non-sequential timeline, I found the book very easy to follow.  At the end, I wanted to keep on journeying with these characters who had lost so much, but, at the same time, I would not want to trade worlds with them.

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