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Pickle Me This

November 30, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station-elevenLately, I’ve been reading off the beaten track (with more to come—so exciting! Up next is a copy of The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner, and over the holidays I intend to read all four of Marilynne Robinson’s novels. And it thrills me so to read like this), but I am glad I came back down to earth to read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which came recommended by Nathalie Foy and was nominated for a National Book Award. With the latter point in particular, it doesn’t need a review from me, but I want to take a moment write about how much I enjoyed reading it. About how it didn’t immediately seem like something I’d appreciate—The Travelling Symphony, a troupe of actors and musicians, makes its way across America in the years following an apocalyptic flu pandemic that had brought the of civilization as we know it. That kind of setting rarely draws me—I like my books in civilization, thank you very much. But Mandel has a savvy knack of mixing it up, for turning the page at just the point my readerly patience is waning, and taking me somewhere altogether new. The novel moves between (seemingly) our present day and the not-s0-distant future, between Toronto on the eve of the pandemic, Hollywood some years before, and an airport in the future in which relics of the past—mobile phones, credit cards, games consoles, and more—have been preserved in a “Museum of Civilization.” The night of the flu outbreak, an actor dies onstage while performing King Lear at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, a child actress in the wings watching, an audience member jumping on stage to per for CPR. And it turns out that Arthur Leander’s last night is the last night of everything, although memory of that night lives on in the mind of a few survivors connected to the actor. The survivors are also linked by a mysterious comic book whose narrative seems eerily prescient, and it turns out that this book about the end of the world is actually about the best of the world—the Travelling Symphony’s motto (written on their caravans, stolen from Star Trek) is, “Because survival is not enough,” after all.

And it’s not a book without hope. “If there are again towns with streetlights, if there are symphonies and newspapers, then what else might this awakening world contain?” Which is a question any of us could be asking any time, Station Eleven a reminder that wonders are ever unceasing—the spell of a good book most certainly among them.

One thought on “Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel”

  1. Sarah says:

    I’ll be so interested to hear what you make of The Children’s Bach. Meanwhile you’ve made me want to read Station Eleven which I previously (post apocalyptic setting!) thought I didn’t. Thanks!

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