17 October 2015

Best Endeavour Book Club: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Ahead of Station Eleven's release there was a lot of buzz that piqued my interest in reading it, but when it came out I just didn't pick it up. Thank goodness I rectified that this month because it's brilliant. Truly thrilling, unexpected and moving, I loved it.

In a seemingly present-day Canada, an actor dies on stage during a performance of King Lear. Almost simultaneously, the (thankfully fictional) Georgia Flu touches down and wipes out the majority of the world's population in mere days.
Moving forward twenty years, we meet those whose lives were unravelled by the virus. Chief among them is Kirsten, a member of the Travelling Symphony; a band of actors and musicians who perform Shakespearean plays in the settlements which have sprung up following the collapse.

Through flashbacks Mandel recounts the way the world fell apart. I thought the way this was done was simply wonderful. It's not heavy handed or overwrought in the slightest; in contrast, the end of everything is so quiet and understated that it's like it just slipped away.
The writing throughout is beautiful and elegant, not revealing everything but giving enough flashes of the world before and after to allow you to be truly invested in this new world and the survivors that inhabit it. Indeed, such is the beauty of Mandel's writing that a brief passage describing a newsreader addressing his wife on air during the uncertainty of everything moved me to tears.

The way the multiple strands of the story and the various characters merge together throughout the course of the novel, and the reveal of the title's meaning, are fantastic. The world Mandel has built is so vibrant that I spent a large part of the novel feeling so sad that our world could easily end like this and there would be no way to say goodbye to my loved ones if I wasn't already with them.
I really like speculative fiction at the moment and loved the real plausibility of this scenario.

My only complaint about Station Eleven is that it finished long before I was ready and that little cliffhanger at the end, again just a glimmer of what might be, left me wanting more. I know I have to the rest of Mandel's catalogue to read and I'm looking forward to that, but I wish I could have travelled with the Symphony for a little longer.

Have you read Station Eleven or any of Mandel's other novels? You can get Station Eleven via my affiliate link on Book Depository or support your local bookshop by buying it through my new obsession, Hive (not an affiliate link!)

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