Friday, 17 July 2015

Review: Station Eleven

Like Burial Rites, this book was one that just kept cropping up on people's favourites lists at the end of last year. And for that reason I was compelled to pick it up while supposedly spending the day at the library to write an essay. (Woops.) I actually read this back in January, but the review in this form took a long time to materialise. I hope it's worth the wait! Do let me know if you've read the book and what you think in the comments.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a novel about a flu epidemic, which wipes out the vast majority of the earth's population, and how civilisation picks itself up and starts over again. I'm really not one for apocalyptic novels as a rule, and I would normally avoid books that sound that depressing when in the middle of a stressful uni term. (Reading during term time is normally reserved for fun and comforting books only...) But this one had such intriguing reviews that I just had to pick it up and give it a go.

There certainly are many unique and fascinating ideas in this book. The narration hops backwards and forwards in time between the outbreak and immediate aftermath of the epidemic, the time leading up to that point, and twenty years later, when civilisation is seemingly getting itself back on track. During this third point in time, the story follows a woman who performs with the Travelling Symphony, a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians who traverse the country putting on Shakespeare plays. The idea of the Symphony really appealed to me, and from what I've gathered from reviews, it really appealed to a lot of other people too.

I found the flow of the storytelling itself very smooth and well done, with the constant jumping through time adding a certain element of fatalism, especially in the pre-apocalypse sections. In fact, I much preferred these pre-apocalypse parts; they were perhaps less inventive from a sci-fi/fantasy point of view, but I felt they had more heart and I cared much more about the characters.

There were a couple of points, which I found extremely irritating, where the writing switched suddenly to the present tense. There weren't too many sections like this, but when they did happen, I found them unnecessarily jarring and there didn't seem to be any point to it beyond novelty value.

Another point that didn't sit so well with me was the 'prophet' storyline. It had potential to be an interesting idea, but I found it unconvincing and underdeveloped. It felt a little bizarre that no one else seemed to be grappling with the theological implications of the epidemic, Perhaps this was an attempt to be diplomatic on the part of the author, but you'd think the religious questioning would go beyond the cultish and twisted interpretation of the book of Revelation by one psychopath. It just seemed like a bit of an unfinished thought, seeming to open a discussion about religion's role in a world going through an 'apocalypse', but then it didn't explore it at all. I appreciate the author was probably trying to avoid that can of worms, but not having any real exploration of the theme made the whole idea just fall a bit flat for me. Similarly, I could have done with more development on the idea of the symphony using theatre and music to go beyond mere 'existence'.

Mostly, however, I found the story thoroughly gripping and poignant. The writing was lyrical and interesting, but not so overdone as to detract from my absorption in the story, and there were some really beautiful and bittersweet passages. The pre-apocalypse parts, describing the life of a famous actor who died on stage the night the flu touched down in North America, were my favourite sections.

I would certainly recommend this book, perhaps not quite so highly as other people seem to, but highly nonetheless. As a fresh take on the 'end of the world' concept, this book works really well and I can see it appealing to a wide range of people.

What did you think of Station Eleven? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the middle of this one right now, so I'm bookmarking this to come back to later! Don't wanna color my vision. :)


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