This summer’s vacation read was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It also happens to be the 2015 One Book, One Community selection for Waterloo region this year.
I was taken in by this novel pretty much from the get-go (the get-go being pre-vacation). It takes place in the not-so-distant future where a killer flu has wiped out 99% of humanity, with quite a few more dying in the resulting chaos as the world’s infrastructure crumbles in the absence of its caretakers—networks, fuel stations, the electrical grid…
But it isn’t entirely depressing, as the novel moves back and forth through time, to the days of the epidemic, yes, but also before that, and up to 20 years afterward. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, figuring out how these characters were connected, finding out the origin of mysterious events in the future timeline.
Shakespeare plays a prominent role. The center point of the novel is a Toronto production of King Lear, an unorthodox production featuring children. We learn how the starring actor became famous and get to know his wives. We find that one of the children in the play, a survivor, years later joins a traveling Symphony who bring music and iambic pentameter to the various settlements. Travels that are not without peril.
The book, as one critic said, makes you wistful for our current world. To the post-epidemic young, electricity, running hot water, the Internet, and flying machines all seem unimaginable wonders. One of my favorite lines:
None of the older Symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening given how much time these people had had to look things up on the Internet before the world ended.
I finished the novel on the drive home, and so as not to be rude, I brought Jean up to date via synopsis, then read the last third aloud to him. He got as caught up in it as I had. (Nevertheless, I would recommend reading the entire thing.)
Bonus: This is how Emily St. John Mandel edited Station Eleven.