Monday 16 November 2015

Station Eleven

I bought 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel for Monkey last Christmas because it is a post-apocalyptic novel about Shakespeare. We read it aloud together recently (though she had already read it herself). I loved it because it is about human beings making something new, rather than, like most post-apocalyptic stories, tearing each other to pieces.

The story follows some characters who are bound together by their links with a man, Arthur Leander, who dies in the opening moments of the book. We witness the beginning of the epidemic that will wipe out the human race, watching a few of the random people who will survive, and then jump forward some years into the future and meet them again, in their new found communities. The story revolved mostly around the people of the Travelling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who tour between small communities giving performances in exchange for food. Another group are based at an airport, there they found themselves stranded as the events around the epidemic unfolded, and expecting constantly to be 'rescued' they just ended up staying. The story jumps back and forth in time, giving us the backstories of various characters, and also the history of 'Station Eleven', a far distant satellite/planet that exists in the imagination of Arthur's first wife Miranda and which formed the basis for a series of comic books that she was creating. Only two of the books exist and a copy of each are held (not so coincidentally, since they all had a link to Arthur) by two of the characters. They have become a kind of talisman for Kirsten, a link to the world that is now past. The characters are marked out by age; those who remember the world as it was, and those who don't. Kirsten is one on the borderline, with glimpses of her childhood that she clings to but a sense that she will never know which memories are real and which imagined.

The plot seems initially quite low key, but then tension builds after the Travelling Symphony passes through a place governed by an enigmatic 'Prophet', and they find themselves with a stowaway. It is a largely empty world there are land and resources enough for everyone, so unlike, for example, 'The Road', there are not roaming bands of outlaws killing randomly for food, so although they are wary they do not take the new threat seriously until some of their number disappear. 

You can tell I was engaged with the story as I did not stop to note any quotes. So somewhat at random, here Kirsten and August have become separated from the group and they come across a remote house, unusually untouched since the end of the world:

" 'Nice dress,' August said, when she found him downstairs in the living room.
'The old one smelled like smoke and fish guts.'
'I found a couple of suitcases in the basement,' he said.
They left with a suitcase each, towels and clothing and a stack of magazines that Kirsten wanted to go though later, an unopened box of salt from the kitchen and various other items that they thought they might use, but first Kirsten lingered for a few minutes in the living room, scanning the bookshelves while August searched for a TV guide or poetry.
'You looking for something in particular?' he asked after she'd given up the search. She could see he was thinking of taking the remote. He'd been holding it and idly pressing all the buttons.
'Dr. Eleven, obviously. But I'd settle for Dear V.'
The latter was a book she'd somehow misplaced on the road two or three years ago, and she'd been trying ever since to find a replacement. The book had belonged to her mother, purchased just before the end of everything. Dear V: An Unauthorised Portrait of Arthur Leander. White text across the top proclaimed the book's status as a number-one bestseller. The cover photo was back-and-white, Arthur looking over his shoulder as he got into a car. The look on his face could have meant anything; a little haunted, perhaps, but it was equally possible that someone had just called his name and he was turning to look at him or her. The book was comprise entirely of letters written to a friend, the anonymous V.
When Kirsten had left Toronto with her brother, he'd told her she could bring one book in her backpack, just one, so she'd taken Dear V. because her mother had told her she wasn't allowed to read it. Her brother had raised an eyebrow but made no remark." (P.151-152)

It is an unassuming book, without heroes, but it speaks volumes about the human condition and will leave you hopeful. 

1 comment:

  1. I used to love reading aloud to/with my kid...Sounds like a layered, interesting book.

    Thank you for your kind words.


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