Shelf-Life

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Station Eleven: Train delayed due to global collapse

 Intruder Alert!

Okay, so Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was not on my original list for this challenge. But it is by a female author and it came to me by way of recommendation (and by the grand tradition of book lending, which I have adhered to by not returning it even though I finished it a few weeks ago – yes, this post is late, I am aware).

Like the last book on my list, Station Eleven starts at the end. The first few pages cover the sudden death of aging actor Arthur Leander, a heart-attack during a performance of King Lear on a cold Toronto night. Artificial snow falls on the audience as they watch the faded star depart to stage left on a stretcher, unaware that outside the theatre walls a deadly pandemic is sweeping across the globe on business class wings. One world ends and a new one begins.

We pick up the story twenty years later, following Kirsten and her companions in the Travelling Symphony as they pick their way across a ravaged North America, staging Shakespeare under a slogan borrowed from Star Trek.

The book shares a similar structure to Oryx and Crake, moving back and forth between before the collapse and afterwards, the hole ripped in human civilisation acting as a drain, pulling individuals stories to one central point where they mix and swirl. However the tone is very different. Whereas Atwood can be read as a warning, a glimpse of a possible world, St John Mandel seems to want the reader to step back from the maddening crowd and breathe in the world as it is. Before the pandemic the characters lives are a rush, a confusing torrent of difference all demanding attention. Afterwards, with the need to succeed replaced with only the need to survive, the Travelling Symphony are content. Alone in a hostile land, the collapse of humanity has brought them to themselves, while the characters living before wander lost through ocean of modern life.

So I think that is the point of the book: Find out what really matters to you and do that. Then, even if the world ends, at least you’ll have a chance at being happy.

That’s it. Blog post over. Exit pursued by a bear.