Are you all pumped for my first book review in AGES? Yay!
The book I’m reviewing today is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This isn’t the first book I read since my last book review, which shouldn’t surprise anybody since my last book review was posted months ago. (Beep beep beep… Backlog alert!)
I wanted to post a review of this one today because firstly, it was perfection and I adored it. I loved the characters, I loved the pace of the story and I loved the philosophical undertones of it all. I read it on my Kindle and I’m considering investing in a real copy of the book to satisfy my compulsive need to own every book I REALLY love in hard copy.
Secondly, Emily St John Mandel won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction today! Congratulations!!!
This book released last year and I loved the sound of it from the very beginning, but I’m glad I read it when I did and not earlier. I did a course on Shakespeare in college earlier and I feel like it gave me perspective on the implications of King Lear and our pre-occupation with the apocalypse and apocalyptic events.
This book is ingenious in that it describes an apocalypse that has its fateful beginnings during a stage performance of King Lear, due to the beginnings of an incurable quick-spreading epidemic called the “Georgia Flu”. I… loved that part, honestly. It is a genuine possibility, as much as a nuclear war. Maybe a greater one. Pathogens are developing immunity and growing stronger as fast as we’re developing antidotes for them, and that’s a fact.
The story is in a non-linear narrative, flying back and forth between the perspectives of three main characters, all during different time periods, with all three being in the same place only during that one fateful performance of King Lear. They are:
Arthur Leander, a famous actor playing King Lear in the performance during the end of the world. We learn about his life prior to the apocalypse because he dies of a heart attack during the performance.
An EMT and former paparazzi photographer, Jeevan Chaudhary tries to resuscitate him. He is the second character we follow, learning about the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse through him.
Then we have Kirsten, a little child actor in the very same performance, who joins a travelling troupe of actors who roam the country in caravans performing plays in the plague-ridden, sparsely populated world sans all technology, and her story is set a full fifteen years after the apocalypse. Their motto is “Because Survival is Insufficient” of Star Trek fame. 🙂 I really adored that idea.
The descriptions of life after the apocalypse chilled me, especially the struggle of the physically handicapped, in an anarchic world without electricity, fuel or medication. I wrote a paper on eugenics for one of my classes at the same time that I was reading this book and I explored the ethics of aborting physically and genetically disabled babies, and this particular theme really resonated with me because of that.
The entire book is filled with philosophic undertones, without ever being didactic, and discusses questions of infidelity, love, friendship, loss, organised religion and the value of material possessions and entertainment to maintain a decent quality of life beyond mere survival. I know we forget some times, but there are people whose worlds are and will continue to be apocalyptic and edging towards “the state of nature”, as Lear did in King Lear due to his personal apocalypse. Let’s try to always remember that apocalypses may just be a personal disaster that spells the end of life as we know it, and not just the end of the world, You know? And poverty is an enormous and looming tragedy… like a headache that is constant and doesn’t really even hurt much any more, and that you forget is even there, until you realise you are unable to form a single coherent thought due to this bothersome burden on your brain. It’s the real tragedy, mere survival; a mouth to mouth existence, and the slow painful crawl towards death…
Well, that got real intense real quick! Sorry. It’s just… really impactful.
It’s a fantastic book, guys, and I really worship her now. 🙂 Read it guys. For real.
That’s all for now. 🙂