Friday, January 2, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Interesting.  Very interesting.  I kept thinking about an interview I heard or read by Lev Grossman.  He wrote The Magicians, which was really well written but not one of my favorite books I've ever read.  Essentially, The Magicians was like Narnia or Diana Wynne Jones or Harry Potter, only for adults.  And really, not just for adults, but literary adults.  And this, if I remember the interview correctly, was one of the reasons he wrote the book.  Because (and I could be remembering this all wrong; I"m going back six years ago or so) he saw lots of adults reading Harry Potter.  And as I read Station Eleven, I thought:  dystopias are realy, really "in" right now in young adult fiction, and many adults are reading The Hunger Games and Shipbreaker and the rest (Planet of the Apes and World War Z both come to mind as well).  And so maybe Emily St. John Mandel did a Lev Grossman, and wrote a literary dystopia.   This is complete conjecture, and also I'm side stepping away from the novel itself.  Which I liked.

So Contagion happens, only the viruses win.  Scary ass viruses, and although she never says as much, the place it comes from makes me think it was manufactured, like Planet of the Apes.  And humanity is almost completely wiped out.  Except for little pockets.  And this troupe of musicians and actors travel from outpost to outpost of humanity, making art.  And part of the story has to do with their past, in which actor performing in King Lear dies on stage.  And I wish I knew more about King Lear but I just don't, so I probably missed some literary allusions.  There was a graphic novelist, and crazy prophet,  and a former paparazzi turned paramedic.  And all of their stories collide in the future in which hardly anyone survives.  Which seems convenient to the plot, very convenient.

Luckily though, I never felt completely at sea.  I wasn't quite sure why the stories all connected, but they did.  Like literary fiction of all shapes and sizes and colors and thickness, there was deep shit going on that I probably didn't get because I'm superficial and I'm mostly in it for the adventure.

At least a little of the book must be about how humanity needs art, and that art survives.  At least that part I understood.

This was my second "end of the world as we know it" book this year; I also read The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, and I came away from with almost the same impressions:  good, not great but good, but also pondering exactly what the point of it all was.

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting, very interesting.  Sort of a literary take onWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (minus the zombies) or (I blush)  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  I'm not exactly sure what my takeaways from the book were though; art survives; people interconnect in ways they aren't always aware of; the person trying to save your life may also be... okay, no spoilers.  But well worth your time.


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