Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven was one of the huge buzz books of 2014, and since it was a dystopian I picked it up, once it was adequately cheap, of course. My initial impressions were that the book might land among one of my favorites because the beginning was so promising. I tend to love books that enthrall you and keep you entertained, and although there were a few slow spots near the end, Station Eleven fits the bill for that type of book.

The book's title comes from a small-batch graphic novel one of the heroines created in the world before the Georgia Flu. In a way, the book mimics the themes of that graphic novel, even though the graphic novel is set on a space station known as Station Eleven. The reader is occasionally given glimpses of the text and scenes of the graphic novel, but the majority of it remains a mystery.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
'One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
'Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
'Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, 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.'

The strengths of this book are its writing and characterization: we get to see Kirsten grow up, Arthur live and die, and Jeevan try to keep it together. Unfortunately, most of the plot relies on connecting the characters and telling their stories, not necessarily including a dynamic plot you'd expect of a dystopian in the age of The Hunger Games and Divergent. It also reminded me in particular of a story I've read before (as a teen): How I Live Now, which is exactly as its title tells you it will be. So if you're expecting something completely different from the mainstream (which I was hoping for) Station Eleven isn't exactly it.

The book is, however, incredibly melodramatic with its narration. I'm the type of reader who loves that sort of thing (i.e. all of the people in this scene died within two weeks, etc.), but it might bug you if you don't like a little drama. If you plan on reading this, you also might benefit from loving Shakespeare or Star Trek, as there are references scattered throughout. I probably didn't catch all of them, but the main theme of the Traveling Symphony is based around the Star Trek: Voyager quote: "Survival is insufficient".

Station Eleven is a book I'd like to see the graphic novel version of... and I don't even really read graphic novels. I think I would've liked this book better had I not been expecting a flashy ending, but when you're brought into the book with such a solid, dramatic beginning, you expect the book not to end with a whisper. If you like character-driven storylines in a world where the ones who can remember the time before reminisce about emails, this might be the book for you.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a beautifully written book that's a little short on plot.

Content: Ages 16+ for occasional violence, camping beneath the stars, and sexual references.

Page Count: 352 pages

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