September 24th – Station Eleven

This week’s title is Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Ms. Mandel is a lyrical writer, even when her subject is a bunch of post apocalyptic Shakespearean actors and musicians traipsing around what’s left of North American civilization. The combination makes for compelling stuff.

The story starts with an actor’s death during a performance of King Lear, on the eve of the arrival of the Georgian flu, a pandemic that will devastate the human population. On stage that night is a little girl who will not only survive the flu but will end up performing Shakespeare with this wandering troupe for the next twenty years. The novel flashes between the present and past, illuminating thin yet critical connections among characters, all linked by the dead actor.

This book is not devastating like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or as detailed and complex as the father of all pandemic books, Stephen King’s The Stand. Nor does it have the zombie angle so I won’t compare it to World War Z, another well known entry in this fairly overheated genre (we’ll talk about the popularity of end of the world books another time because if we get started the world could end and we’d still be here talking). So why couldn’t I put this one down?

Turns out it’s those connections, those tangled tenuous exceedingly fragile links between friends and strangers that Ms. Mandel weaves together so expertly, that kept me turning the pages. Station Eleven is almost more mystery than anything else and just like with any good mystery, I wanted to know what happened next. I needed to know. Curious to see what you think of it.

Spoiler Alert! – I’m going back to one of last week’s picks for a second – Wendy Mass’s A Mango Shaped Space – and if you want to read it and not have me ruin it for you STOP here. So after I finished, I gave the book to my ten year old son. He read it and then basically threw it at my head. “The cat dies, mom! Why did you make me read this?” I had terrible flashbacks of reading Old Yeller when I was a kid and felt kind of bad. “But then she gets that cute kitten,” I said in my own lame defense. “Mango’s baby.” He was not appeased. I’d say I’m in the dog house but really I’m in the dead cat house. Moving on…

So I have a question for you: have you read Go Set A Watchman? If yes, what did you think? If no, why not? I’m torn…..

Have a great weekend!


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