Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Station Eleven

Author: Emily St John Mandel
Genre: Dystopian, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 333
Publisher: Knopf
First Published: January 1, 2014
First Line: "The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored."

Book Description from GoodReads: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Review:  How do I feel about this book?  That's a hard question.  When I was reading it I liked parts of it and other parts I found to be quite slow.  Some of the characters were interesting and others seemed to fade in and out of the story line without me getting a chance to know them.  After reading Station Eleven I liked it but didn't love it.  Ya, this is a hard one.

I've read my fair share of dystopian reads and I think going into this book I had some preconceived notions about how the story would be played out.  From the book description it's not necessarily a book that I would have picked up on my own but since it's being featured at the library where I work so I thought I'd give it a shot.  The King Lear/travelling Shakespearean actor troop meets the apocalypse is what made me question whether this was a book for me.  It seemed like an odd combination and I wondered how this troop of actors and the death on a Shakespearean stage would fit into the overall 'end of the world as we know it' story.

What I did love was that there were great descriptions of Toronto and that this Canadian author kept the Canuck factor in the book.  She has some very unique characters and quite a few of them take up the story at some point or other and I enjoyed seeing how their lives intertwined.

But it surprised me that, for a book that focuses on a post-apocalyptic world, it wasn't nearly as raw or scary as I was expecting.  This is a world that has been decimated so you'd think that there'd be rampant violence, a severe lack of food and general upheaval.  There are some scenes that get a little dicey but overall this was a fairly sedate dystopian society and that surprised me. I realize that the reader is coming in a many years after the initial downfall of society but I still thought the book would be grittier. But when I step back from it I think that the author wanted to focus on people's relationships and how they dealt with this new dystopian society emotionally.  It was a much more philosophical view of a dystopian world than I was expecting and the phrase 'survival is insufficient' sums it up well. I think that the author wanted to show how people, in their own ways, overcame the end of the world they knew.  I just wish that her ending was a lot more substantial and rounded out the story.  I definitely wanted to know what happened to some of the characters but was left hanging.

There are several unique and quirky characters and sometimes it was hard to keep track of who was who - especially within the travelling troop.  My issue was that it felt like the author kept them at arms length from the reader.  I never felt connected to anyone and maybe that's the feeling she was going for but it bothered me.  I think a major oversight was the fact that the author tells the reader that Kirsten has no memory of the first year or so after the flu wiped out most of the population and then we're never told anything else about that time.  It felt like a tease.  I was hoping that she'd let us know why Kirsten blocked out that time and what happened to her.

In the end, the author somewhat redeemed herself as the story lines converge and it started to come together for me.  Overall, I liked this book but didn't love it.  It was an interesting twist on a dystopian read where it focuses on how different people survived the apocalypse but I do wish I was more engaged with the plight of the characters and that there was more action.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Janine K said...

Hmm I have just started listening to this on audiobook, and I got it in because of the rave reviews out there. I have read both books of The Passage and really liked them. I'm interested to read your review. Will let you know what I thought when I have finished. Reading is just so subjective, you are sometimes better off not reading reviews and just picking up a book at random sometimes wi h no preconceived ideas. What do you think Laurie?

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

I agree. Whether you love a book often depends on your mood, sometimes other people's comments and even if you compare the book to another similar book. So very subjective. I'd love to hear what you thought about it. Post your comment on here when you're done.

Janine K said...

I'm about halfway through this on audiobook and struggling to understand what the heck is going on, you just can't get invested in any of the characters and it is jumping from one storyline to the other, should I continue?

Just read your most recent reviews looks like you are struggling to find a good read lately Laurie, I hope that changes.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Janine -- the story lines do eventually converge and make more sense the further on in the book you go.

I do find that I'm struggling to find a book I thoroughly enjoy. I did just finish a fantasy book (the first in a trilogy) that I enjoyed. That book review is in the works but I have a few I have to review before I get to it (and a tasty snack cake recipe to post too). :)

Janine K said...

Laurie, Managed to finish this book on audio, really struggled to make sense of it though, and didn't enjoy it 😔
Feel like I'm going through a bad patch lately, the last book was dreadful as well.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

That's too bad that you didn't enjoy it, Janine. It's disheartening to go through a rough reading patch. I'm currently reading Lucinda Riley's latest book, The Seven Sisters (I'm enjoying it so far - only 70 pages in. Have you read one of her earlier books, specifically The Midnight Rose? Such a good book. I read and reviewed it a couple of years ago. Good luck finding a new, awesome read!

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