Author – Emily St. John Mandel
Published – 10 September 2014
Genre – Fiction
There are some books that you see getting a lot of mentions on social media without ever knowing what they are about, and this was the case with Station Eleven. So when the publisher offered people a chance to request the book on NetGalley I didn’t want to miss out, which means that when I started reading the book I really had no idea to expect.
The first thing to say is that this is one of the exceptions to my ‘crime-focused’ blog. And having said what it isn’t, it’s quite difficult to say what it is. The bulk of the story takes place in post-apocalyptic America, in fact twenty years after a strain of flu decimates the human population. The focus of the story is The Travelling Symphony – a group of actors and musicians touring a small area, bringing Shakespeare and concerts to the settlements that survive. Without dwelling too much on the details of how the Symphony came together the participants have all seen their share of misfortune before joining the ensemble. The timeline moves around between the present and the past, including prior to the outbreak of the flu. In the present the troupe are faced with a sinister mystery when two members of their group are not at the settlement at which they expect to meet them.
Kirsten, a young actor with the troupe, is the main character, and is all that you would want from a female lead. She’s confident, independent, brave and very believable. In some ways the book feels like her story, in fact the different characters and threads are linked by another Shakespearean actor, but one who died before the flu took hold. Normally I find stories with separate threads and timelines can be difficult to follow but that wasn’t the case here, rather it was fascinating to see glimpses of different characters and how the past and present were woven together.
Oddly this isn’t a book about the apocalypse, although you do get what seems like a very credible view of how civilisation might deal with such a crisis, but it’s more about the ability of people to adapt to adversity. I’ve seen a few bloggers say that they’re struggling to do the book justice in their review, and I know how they feel.
Mandel has a writing style that makes the story very easy to read with great characterisation (I was especially fond of Clark). She manages to capture something about the essence of human nature as well as what it means to be alive in the twenty first century and she reminds us not to take for granted the simplest of everyday items. Something quite unusual in this book is the part played by a more visual medium (a comic book) and it was interesting to see that there are some real life images which now support the book.
I haven’t seen anything that suggests that this is more than a standalone book, but I really want to find out what happens to the group in the future and how humanity fares. Thanks to the publisher for the netgalley- you can see another point of view at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.