Remember how I talked the other day about where I get book recommendations? Well, today's Friday Read seemed to be popping up in all my normal channels of finding book recs. It made some Best Of lists. I heard about it on podcasts. Fellow writers/readers talked about it. Plus, it has a gorgeous cover, so I finally picked it up. I'm so glad I did.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is not a book I'd typically pick up because I'm not a huge literary fiction reader. I love love love deeply drawn characters and beautiful writing but I also need a strong narrative drive in my books. Slow books just aren't my cup of tea. But I'm here to reassure you, even if you're not a lit fic reader, that this one is page-turner, if not in a thriller-esque style. It's compelling because you want to know what happens to all of these characters and how they are all linked. (Having said that, I wouldn't recommend it to my husband because he wants a breakneck pace in his books, and this is not that. So if that's you, it may not be a good fit.)
The premise of the story has a strong hook. The world has been hit by a flu pandemic that's taken out 99% of the population and now the survivors are left with a world without electricity, running water, internet, infrastructure, government, etc. They have lost the people they love. Think The Walking Dead minus the zombies.
"Hell is the absence of the people you long for." (pg. 144)
You see some of the time before the event, as this is a book that jumps back and forth along the timeline, but much of the book follows a cast of characters 20 years after the pandemic. There's a traveling troupe of musicians and actors who put on Shakespeare plays and music performances. There's also a crazy prophet (isn't there always at the end of the world?) There's a comic book that plays in prominently and is where the title comes from. It's a strange mix of things that all connect in some way, which is part of the drive of the book (the need to know how all these people connect.)
But ultimately, this book is about the human spirit and the drive to create things even when basically all is lost. Art remains. Passion remains. I loved that message.
I know most of you are romance readers like me, so you like your endings happy, and that's what makes us reluctant to venture outside genre sometimes. I don't want a book to devastate me. It's just not my jam. (Or I have to KNOW it's going to devastate me and prepare myself like when I picked up The Fault In Our Stars). So without giving spoilers, I will say, this book is a hopeful one, but it's tone is melancholy and the narrative almost dreamlike. The ending is not wrapped up in a bow, but it was hopeful and I was satisfied with it. It fit the story. I walked away from the book feeling thoughtful. It's one that takes a little while to process afterward and I imagine will stick with me.
Here's the back cover. (This describes the book but can also be a bit misleading because it makes it sound like it has a big thriller element with the prophet. There is a little bit of that, but this is definitely not a thriller.)
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
What are you reading this weekend? Has anyone else read this one?