Monday, July 10, 2017

Review of "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel

On the same night that Toronto-based movie/stage actor Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack while playing King Lear the 'Georgia flu' begins a deadly rampage that soon kills 99.99% of the human population. Societies collapse and the few remaining individuals eventually congregate in small communities and try to get on with their lives.

Most of this book follows the story of a few people connected to Arthur Leander - family, friends, acquaintances - that survived the flu. This includes ex-wives, his son, his best friend, fellow actors, and a paramedic in the audience who tried to save his life. There are threads that vaguely connect this group of people. For example, Arthur's first wife, Miranda was a writer/artist who wrote comic books about a group of people who escaped an alien invasion of Earth to live on a space station. This group is led by a character named Dr. Eleven. Some of these comics end up in the hands of Kirsten Raymonde, who was a child actor in the fateful production of King Lear. Fifteen years after the disastrous flu Kirsten is part of a traveling symphony/acting troupe that makes a circuit of upper Michigan, entertaining people in small settlements.

Arthur's second wife was Elizabeth, an actress with whom he had a son. When the flu hit, Elizabeth and her son happened to be on the same plane as Arthur's best friend Clark. The plane was forced to land at an airport short of their destination and the surviving passengers took up residence there, inhabiting the various concourses and now useless planes. After a time Clark starts a museum in the airport, displaying relics - such as phones, credit cards, passports - of the 'old times'.

The story jumps around in time from the years before Arthur's death, to the night of his heart attack, to the days following, to twenty years later, and to various times in between. It was interesting to read the author's take on what would happen in the aftermath of a disaster that wiped out almost all of humanity: practial considerations like getting food, clothing, and shelter; people in denial; people trying to make sense of the calamity; violence and looting; cults forming; and so on.

As the story proceeds the members of the traveling symphony come into contact with other survivors, and - in the various conversations and inner thoughts among the characters - there's plenty of introspection and philosophical thinking.

What bothers me a little about dystopian stories like this is the unrealistic (to me) notion that people would continue to live in primitive conditions for years and years. These aren't, after all, cave people who never heard of technology, electricity, industry, computers, and so on. It seems likely that some smart, capable people would make it their business to improve living conditions very quickly.

The characters in the book are interesting and there's some danger/suspense as 'good guys' encounter 'bad guys'. There's also a little bit of a mystery with clues for the reader to ponder. All in all, an okay book.  

Rating: 3 stars

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