Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station eleven

(HarperCollins, 2014)

A fiction pick by Jean-Louis

While I do not usually enjoy dystopian novels–I guess “enjoy” is not really the point of dystopian novels–I can say that Station Eleven is a very entertaining read. Mandel moves us back and forth from “the end of the world as we know it” (yes there is a a song reference) to a time before the collapse of civilization and weaves together the stories of a band of characters.

A few days before the great collapse, actor Arthur Leander is on the stage performing the role of King Lear in a Toronto production when he suddenly has a heart attack and dies on stage. Child actress Kirsten Raymonde is witness to this tragedy which is only the beginning of the changes which will upset her world completely. This is also the beginning of the novel’s connection to the performing world. As we skip forward 15 years, we join Kirsten and her fellow members of The Travelling Symphony as they tour the small outposts of  the altered world in and around the Great Lakes. They perform music and put on the plays of Shakespeare and travel from town to town by horse cart.

Mandel weaves together the stories of the various cast members, providing glimpses into their lives from before the collapse and into the present time. A pandemic has laid waste to society and those who are old enough to remember long for a time with electricity, gasoline, air conditioning, the internet, and an interconnected world.  The world has become an unsafe place populated by brigands and marauders intent on stockpiling resources, and still more dangerous groups who profess to know “the answer” as to why the plague has been visited upon them.

The novel is thankfully not all doom and gloom. Mandel’s characters do ponder how to achieve community, to support one another, and make a life in the midst of devastation. The Travelling Symphony has a slogan painted on their lead caravan, taken from an episode of Star Trek Voyager that reads, “Because survival is insufficient.” Read the novel to discover all the things that the characters discover are worth pursuing–you will not regret the voyage.


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