Monday, January 9, 2017

#CBR9 Review #01: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A new year, and new books to read and review! Yaaay!

This book was a part of one of the CBR group discussions last year, or the year before, wasn’t it? I knew it sounded familiar but alas, had not gotten around to it until now. I’ll be honest I had no idea what Station Eleven was about when I started to read it, but I received it as a gift from a friend and I must say, she did a great job choosing something that she thought I would like! It looks like quite a few other people have enjoyed it, too. But let us dive in, shall we?

Station Eleven begins with the death of an actor on stage. From there, a deadly flu takes out the majority of the population of earth, and we are left viewing the lives of the survivors. Those we encounter, however, are all somehow connected to this public figure whose death preceded these events. While most zombie/illness outbreak movies and stories that I have seen tend to focus on the immediate downfall or just a few weeks after, Station Eleven deals with not just when everything started falling apart, but years later as people start to find their groove and develop a new, albeit smaller and simpler world. And when I say years, I mean years: 20 years later when there are children growing up who have never experienced the world before the flu. It begs the question of how lives are differently affected by the world having experienced it or not, or even simply knowing about it or not. 

Another difference which really set Station Eleven apart for me in terms of other outbreak/post-apocalyptic stories is that this one is not focused on the violence and technical hardship of the lives (though there are some aspects of that present), but it is a more emotional look at the individuals and how they have responded to the world now: those who want to find others for connection, who want to keep the arts going for their passions, those who want to rebuild, and those who want to control. Since years have passed, some of the violence and initial turmoil has died down and people are now really coming into how their lives will be for the time being. It’s an intimate look at how different lives are interconnected and how people all handle trauma, disaster, and even the general events of life so differently. 

There is a really effective balance between darkness and light in this book: a gentleness, but also an honesty of emotion? The only thing that I can really complain about is that a few of the characters almost seemed extraneous, or that they were going to play much bigger parts than they did? At least, in my mind that is what it felt like. In all honesty, even though I had no idea what this book was going to be about, I ended up enjoying it immensely. There is pain, but also hope, and I absolutely love that.

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