Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Typically when I've used quotes as a part of my blog post reviews, I pull them from Goodreads or Google, but 'Station Eleven' is far too captivating a book to not take a piece from it that made me think a little deeper about existentialism and about taking our current world for granted.
There is nothing more satisfying to an insatiable bibliophile, well me lol, than an author who masters capturing atmosphere. Mandel's writing of this post apocalyptic world is so vivid that I felt like I was transported immediately into an unknown realm and began pondering on how I would survive with memories
I have of the old world when everything I knew is gone. Throughout Mandel's narrative she addresses the stark contrast between those who are old enough to remember the old world and those who were born post collapse. It was so interesting to read how each group was dependent on the other and how that essentially determined how and if they survived. I also thought the way Mandel incorporated the change in language was pertinent to the relationship between these two groups. There were conversations about why people in the old world wrote T-H-X instead of THANKS or why it was "shoot an email" instead of "send" which I thought was quite funny. Here's the synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:
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.
I think I discovered, between this and 'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia Butler , that I am a huge fan of adult dystopian sci-fi post apocalyptic books. I'm thinking of how every aspect of your life has been wiped away and you are forced to create new surroundings, a new way of life to essentially replace a state of consciousness you once knew.
I loved that it only took a few chapters to transition from one world into the next. I would like to think that was purposeful on the part of Mandel; not necessarily based on pacing for the reader but an intricate part of the psychology of the narrative. The abruptness of a functional world into a complete environmental degradation. How fast would we be able to adjust to starting over. The Traveling Symphony were a group of musicians and actors who put on plays like King Lear and A Midnight Summer's Dream. In this collapsed society they maintained their artistry; reminders of a formal world.
One of the main character's Kirsten collected text about one of the famous actors in their plays, Author, who died on stage performing King Lear right before the pandemic. His ex-wife, Miranda, created a work called 'Station Eleven' coincidentally about post apocalyptic society caused by war. I think the reason the Symphony was able to stick together through it all and Kirsten held so tightly to the work of a celebrity is because stories told through art and the work of the famous are immortal and lives on forever. It's all a reminder of something that makes people happy; something the resonates with human sensibility. Another main character, Jeevan, a paparazzi turned paramedic, who attempted to save Author's life the night he collapsed on stage, had such an endearing relationship with his brother Frank. Frank said famous people live forever because once they've been seen, they want to be remembered. Memories or lack there of seem to be a common thread in this story.
Of course when the world as we know it collapses, someone takes it upon themselves to attempt to create a totalitarian society. Enter the despicable prophet who wanted to acquire as many wives as he could and kill anyone who challenged his authority. I am always curious about how one person is able to instill so much fear in others. Is it that people feel lost and alone and need someone to lead them? Anyone? Even if they are dangerous?
I also am picturing how in a collapsed society we are capable of using every single resource around us and even creating new resources, but in our present society where there is immediate access to everything we don't even acknowledge those resources. We exhaust every possible thing not realizing that doing so could actually bring us closer to a collapsed society. It's such a cyclical idea.
I also think it is incredibly difficult for authors to write time hopping, but Mandel did it brilliantly. She repeatedly took me from the old world to the new at different points in the story effortlessly. One of the most important locations I think in the entire story is the Museum of Civilization.; a library of things from people who were cognizant of the old world; who could tell stories about a once civilized existence. Towards the end I was thinking about life imitating art imitating life. There was a weaving between these plays, Author's 'Station Eleven' text and what was happening. It unfolded like a prophecy of some sort.
Although this review is a bit lengthy, I left out super major details because I really want you to read this book. It is just fantastic read!! I also loved that Mandel wrote a group of diverse characters. In the end Clark, one of the main characters, says there was something reminiscent about the woman in the 'Station Eleven' story who travelled the world before the war. Pieces of this fictional story became a reality and any experiences before the collapse quickly became a part of history. This book is compelling and captivating. I buddy read it with my good friend Chloe and we breezed though it. It is brilliant and one of my all time favorites now.