Monday, 4 March 2019

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Publication date: September 9th 2014
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 336

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theatre troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.
Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I popped into my local bookshop, "Mr B's Emporium of Books" and ended up looking at their staff recommendation shelves. One member of staff had picked four books, three of which were long standing favourites of mine, and one that I'd never come across before. Naturally I bought it.

And then I fell into this incredible story, and wasn't seen for several hours. I devoured it, I resented any time I had to spend away from it, I cried over it and laughed over it and felt myself unspool and reform slightly different after reading this. In short, all the signs of a truly excellent book.

It's a story about the end of the world. But it's also the story about a new world forming. It's about what really matters once you break down all of the pre-constructed ideas. But most importantly it's about people and relationships. Instead of falling into the trap of telling a world ending story on a world ending story scale, "Station Eleven" hones in tightly on a small group of people who are connected - some in obvious ways, others that you have to wait a while to find out how. It's about their stories in the years before the collapse, in the hours leading up to it, the days and years following. How each person adapts and responds to it - what makes them human coming to the fore.

I loved how each person ties back to Arthur, how everything revolves around his perfectly normal death - the lynch pin that everyone else spins around. A defining, linking point of kinship. Each little thread that overlaps, doubles back and loops on itself until you have a gorgeously constructed, tightly woven tapestry.

The writing is gorgeous, carefully constructed, haunting and engaging - I couldn't get enough of this beautiful piece. When I finished it, I simply sat staring into space until my husband asked me if he could do anything. I simply handed him the book and told him to read it. He did. He loved it too. And it prompted some really fascinating conversations about the book.

I can't believe I missed this book when it first came out, but I am oh so glad I've read it now. I can understand why that staff member put it up there with some of my other favourites, I'd put it there too.

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