Days after reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and I am still thinking about it. But, I’ll be honest, its fantastical premise initially put me off.
“One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”
(from Knopf jacket copy)
So in Station Eleven we have: a near-future world in which electricity, oil, cities, law and borders no longer exist due to a pandemic that wiped out most of the world’s population, a travelling troupe comprised of Shakespearean actors and orchestra musicians, a prophet and science fiction comic books, all with multiple threads that lead back to a miserable celebrity / actor who, in the first chapter of the book, dies in the midst of performing King Lear. See what I mean? It’s a huge web of an idea.
There is no doubt that Station Eleven is an incredibly clever, tightly woven, considered and deliberate book. I found it spectacular. It gave me the same sense of wonder and intrigue as encountering one of those Russian nesting dolls. The worlds within it – past, present and comic book – open up into and upon and on top of each other, twinning versions that are increasingly strange and yet familiar. These futures are brutal and severe but Station Eleven’s characters – all connected to Arthur Leander (our lost celebrity, our Lear) – are depicted with empathy and compassion, including the murderous ones. Mandel’s worlds and characters are brimming with loss and sadness but also searching for hope. There are many oxymoronic comments to make about this book – the plot is broad and bold but the details are gritty and authentic, it is complicated but inviting, cerebral but warm. Importantly, Station Eleven doesn’t judge or preach, despite the strong temptation there must have been to do so, with its foreboding subject.
Station Eleven is so compelling. I got huge satisfaction figuring out the connections between the different worlds and characters, solving the riddles and following the breadcrumbs that Mandel so expertly plants. Station Eleven drew me in and I found myself awake in the dead of night still reading – my eyes dry and head fuzzy, the electric streetlight outside the window a sudden miracle, so deeply had I waded into the post-Georgia flu reality. Towards the end I kept putting the book down, dreading being parted from it, longing for it to go on.
In the end, my single wish for Station Eleven was that I had read it earlier, that I had not been so dismissive of the description of Mandel’s bold plot. This book is fantastic, in all the definitions of the word, and if you haven’t read it yet I urge you to do so. If you haven’t already committed to a new book you could join me in making this mesmerizing, surprising, atmospheric book your first book for 2018.
Have you ever read a book that you were initially put off by? What is / was your first read for 2018?
P.S. Post your first book for 2018 with the hashtag #firstbook2018 or #firstread2018 on Instagram to join the discussion and book crushing. Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for it resulting in additions to already overwhelmingly long book wish-lists.
A note about Book Crush –
I am not a critic. Writing a book is very hard work; I know that intimately! I read the same way I eat – I’m an omnivorous enthusiast. I love fiction, non-fiction, self-help, middle grade, dystopia, romance and everything in between. If it’s good, I’m going to shout about it. I am not sponsored. Yet (lol). Book Crush is simply my place for gushing about books that I think are particularly special. The place to share books that are like nothing I have ever read before. If you love books and authors and words and stories that make your skin prickle and heart swell then Book Crush is definitely for you. Discussion welcomed, haters can find another location. Thank you and happy reading x