‘This orangeless world’: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

mandelSometimes I think all people read the same books. After selling copy #788 of Goldfinch, it’s hard to believe otherwise. Booksellers are not immune to this condition. We tend to get influenced by reps, by publishers, by panels at conferences. That said, putting ‘BEA buzz book’ sticker on a book is most assuredly not the way to make me read it. But making my friend and fellow bookseller do it, that’s the way. So I guess I’m not immune to herd reading either, I just like it more personalized.

Station Eleven turned out to be interesting and smart, although my friend also told me that it had apparently been done before, sort of. It’s not a big deal. After all, Hunger Games was also pretty good without being very original. In Station Eleven, a highly virulent strain of flu ends the world as we know it soon after an actor collapses on stage while performing King Lear. A theatre company travels this post-apocalyptic world, staging Shakespeare’s plays at various communities that sprang up after the pandemic. There is much jumping in space and time, and various characters turn out to be personally connected to other characters in a variety of interesting ways. I kept reading because the writing was excellent and the story was well-plotted and well-paced, with lots of neat tidbits. Perhaps it’s not much of a compliment to describe a story as ‘neat’ or ‘tidy’, but that’s what it felt like: ‘the pieces of a pattern drifting closer together’. I’m in general a fan of non-linear storytelling, and Station Eleven hit all the right notes with me.

What struck a particular cord for me is that Station Eleven, at its core, is the story of immigrants. The members of the company seemed like refugees from a different world. Some were children when the world ended, others were much older, and it was fascinating to see how different characters viewed the new world depending on their past experiences: ‘I haven’t thought of an airplane in so long’. It seems quite similar to immigration: someone who moved to a country when they were a child will have a different worldview than someone who had to immigrate when they were a teenager or already an adult. In Station Eleven, one of the characters finds herself wondering ‘if it was better or worse to have never known any world except for the one after the Georgia Flu.’

Station Eleven is out on September 9th. Mere weeks stand between you and a great post-apocalyptic novel. Read it even if it doesn’t seem like your sort of thing.

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