Saturday, 27 December 2014

Book #49 Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven

Station Eleven begins with the death, onstage, of the actor Arthur Leander during a performance of King Lear. He died of a heart attack, but pretty soon almost everyone who attended that performance is dead too. There has been an outbreak of "Georgia Flu" which has caused a catastrophic loss of life on a global scale.

The novel flashes forward to Year Twenty (post flu) and Kirsten, who was on stage in King Lear that night, and is now part of The Traveling Symphony, a band of actors and musicians who travel from one settlement to another entertaining survivors.

Station Eleven has seen a lot of high praise, of the 80+ reviews on Amazon UK, 50+ have given it 5 stars, and really, you can consider me baffled about this, really you can.

Potentially my apathy towards this book has something to do with the sheer number of books of this sort out there, I've read quite a lot of this type in the last few years, which if they don't have a flu virus at the centre, have zombies instead. There wasn't really a yawning gap in this market, at all.

It is reminiscent of both The Stand with its sinister religious aspect and Warm Bodies seeing as one large settlement lives in an airport. One of the most cringeworthy moments comes when a character directly references Justin Cronin's novel The Passage, which did the apocalypse so well, I thought. So, my point is it's derivative, and unoriginal. Yet a lot of the reviews say the opposite and rave about this "bleak new world" she paints.

But most of what I disliked about this book came down to the choices she made regarding her characters, and their generally implausibility both as people and in their story journeys.

A very large section of the novel focuses in on Arthur Leander, an egotistical, obnoxious smugster and the tale of how famed changed him so much he alienated his friends as he ran through various wives and so on.

But Arthur dies at the start of the book and so has no connection to what came after. This is to show the total shift from the old world to the new, I think, but it doesn't work and is forced  and so we get these swathes of information about his affair and his dinner party and his ugly divorces.
Yes, there could be a comparison between Arthur and King Lear, but it's a different story - the two don't gel, it's a separate novel melded into another.   

An extremely forced connection between the past narrative of Arthur and Year Twenty narrative of Kirsten is forged through her possession of the comic Station Eleven which was the brainchild of his first wife. Then several other characters from all areas of the globe, with some connection to Arthur who happen to all be alive for a start,  have all ended up in North America meeting each other along the way.  This feels like a failed attempt to give the book some level of emotional depth, but there's zero subtlety, all it provoked in me was a feeling of both annoyance and disbelief. You couldn't forget it was a story.

Arthur is the main problem here, I found that I thought that had the entire narrative belonged to Kirsten with a shaky recollection of some man who once gave her the treasured comic, it would have worked,  but such an emphasis upon the dead mans narrative made no sense. It also might have worked better if Arthur had lived - for a famous actor to have been forced to survive in a world where fame has lost all meaning.

The cherry on top of the ice cream that's already melted here is a character called Jayveen, who is the first character we meet. I say "character" but his entire existence is an exposition device and nothing else.

At one point he's a paramedic, another a paparazzi, then he's graduated to an entertainment journalist all at extremely convenient times for the current stage of the plot.        

His ONLY FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WORLD is an ER doctor who luckily promised to call him if ever one of these virus scares TURNED OUT TO BE THE REAL THING.  And then....then he vanishes into a mist, reappearing to reveal he ended up setting out alone after  wasting a whole load of his time answering the question What Will Happen To Wheelchair Users In The Event Of An Apocalypse? Answer : They'll realise that they are a burden to the rest of society and politely do everyone a favour by committing suicide. We'll eventually meet him again briefly when he's completely settled somewhere with barely any connective journey in between.  

This book simply is not very good, where has all the praise come from? What on earth am I missing here? If you've read this and disagree, feel free to argue. But seriously, read The Stand, read Warm Bodies, read World War Z, read The Passage, watch Series 1 of Survivors. Don't read this.



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