by Emily St. John Mandel
2014/ 352 pages
read by Kristen Potter 10h 41m
rating 8.5 / lit-sci-fi
I got this in Kindle format when it was on sale, but decided I’d really rather listen, so that’s what I’m doing – for the most part, anyway. I don’t do this kind of double reading very often, but I really enjoy it for several reasons. First, I can listen to a good narrator for more hours than I can stare at my iPad. Second I can go back to the Kindle version and reread and maybe highlight certain sections, get the spellings of names, note the chapter breaks, etc. And kind of third, last night I was able to take the Kindle to bed and read a couple chapters there.
Station Eleven opens with Part 1 set in the very near future (tomorrow?) at a theatre in Toronto where King Lear is being produced. Suddenly the star, Arthur Leander falls dead of a heart attack. Chapter two is just a few hours later and the crisis is foreshadowed at the end:
“Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.” (p. 15)
And from there through Chapter 6 the reader geta some background on Arthur Leander and the beginning of a terrible pandemic spreading out of Eastern Europe. This is totally the stuff of the worst paranoid scenarios of the Ebola panics, but it was written prior to our recent scare. And this one really happens. The number of deaths is mind boggling.
Chapters 2 through also 6 tells some back-story of Arthur Leander, a famous actor who dies of a heart attack while onstage and about Jeevan – an entertainment reporter who observes Arthur and then gets the news about the pandemic.
Part 2, Chapter 7, opens “Twenty years later…” and we find a small group of actors and musicians calling themselves the “Traveling Symphony” traveling around various towns and settlements performing Shakespeare and other material. The slogan “Survival is not enough” decorates their lead vehicle, a horse-drawn truck. Kirsten Raymonde who was presented as a child in Part 1 is now in her mid-20s. She’s one of the few survivors.
After this the Parts and Chapters continue with the buildup to what eventually becomes twenty years after “Year One,” alternating with the travels of the troupe en route. There are other threads, too, but I won’t spoil the fun. At first the back story chapters are a bit boring, but they build and become the most interesting part – until … lol
The title derives from a science fiction book Arthur’s first wife, Miranda, was working on.
The main tension is finding out what happened between the onset of the disease and twenty years later as well as what will happen to the traveling troupe. Some of the characters are the same so we know that Kirsten, a child in the performance where Leander died, for instance, does survive – she’s obsessed with finding information about Leander in magazines from abandoned homes and buildings. There is other tension – why does the cult leader, “the prophet,” ownds a dog with the name of Luli, the same as the dog owned by Dr. Eleven. What does the black knives tattoo mean? The last 75 pages or so are real page-turning suspense.
It was on the National Book Award shortlist for 2014 and those are always good books – Redeployment by Phil Kay won that one.