Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Station Eleven

Here’s how it works.  An alarming new flu virus crops up half way across the planet in the Republic of Georgia with a frighteningly short incubation period.  Within hours of exposure you will be sick.  Within a day or two you will be dead.  It is traveling fast – very fast - and it is headed in your direction.  Within weeks the civilization you know will have evaporated and if you have somehow survived, you will question whether you were one of the lucky ones.
I’ve not been drawn to doomsday literature nor dystopian-themed books or movies.  Although I know many are considered to be nothing short of masterpieces (1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World to name a few - none of which I have read), my exposure to that genre has been limited, nearly non-existent.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel may be my breakthrough book.  Mine eyes are open.
Although the writing is good it is the story itself that kept me reading far too late into the early morning hours and against my better judgment.  It was what I thought about as I turned the key in the ignition of my car or casually turned on the lights, never before surprised or awed that they would work.  I stood in the produce section of the supermarket and stared at the beautiful colors, the freshness, the amazing array of choices.  So many things at our fingertips, just for the asking. Just for the buying, because we know currency will work and credit cards still exist.  You pick up a pepper, judge it against all the other peppers and put the best one in your cart.  And then you go home and hit the remote for the garage door opener.  You put the groceries in the refrigerator.  You fire up the grill.  You call someone - your mother, your sister, your child, your friend on the telephone.  Probably your cell phone.  You laugh together and close with “Love you,” or “Talk to you later.”  And you open a bottle of wine.  You watch a movie.  You read a book.  When you go to work, there will be people there.  Alive.  You are never alone if you do not wish to be.  It is life as you know it every day and you don’t dwell upon it much, if at all, or upon whether there will be a “later.”
What if it all vanished in a fortnight?  It is the “what ifs” that make this book so compelling.  Is a deadly pandemic so out of the question even in this age of modern medicine, science and technology?  What if one was so fleet and so lethal that there was no time to devise ways to fight it; or those who may have been successful in doing so have perished in its rising wake?  Just think about it:  “No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights.  No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail.  No more cities…No more flight.  No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light…No more pharmaceuticals.  No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite…No more fire departments, no more police.  No more road maintenance or garbage pickup…No more internet.  No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment…No more reading and commenting on the lives of others and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room.  No more avatars.” 
Dystopia.  Not a good place.  It’s the opposite of Utopia, which is where I’d rather live. But, in terms of a gripping book, it’s just not as much fun.  After one writes about the sun shining, the birds singing, and people living in peace and harmony on a healthy planet where everyone is well fed and highly educated, there isn’t much more to do than sit around and eat grape clusters listening to poetry recitations.

            Station Eleven, for all its bleak foreboding, ends on a sweet ray of hope.  If nothing else, it may provoke you to ponder what you might otherwise take for granted…or compel you to pick up the phone and make that call, as you meant to do but never found the time.

12 comments:

  1. I love the variety of your reads. And that final lesson--to do the things for which we never find time--is definitely apt for me at this point in my life. Thank you!

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  2. Tinky, we humans tend to believe there will always be a tomorrow. Thinking about the loss of everything - people we love, basic creature comforts, food, running water..flush toilets, for gosh sakes - isn't pleasant and dwelling on it destroys the happiness in "the now." Nevertheless, I think it's a good practice to take stock every once in a while and recognize the greatness of the life we actually have. After all, you don't have to look far to find someone who is less fortunate. And we should all hug someone today.

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  3. Ooo but WOULD you rather live in a utopia though? Cause I feel like those never go that well either. And end up being dystopias after all.

    Delighted that you liked this book! I remember being so impressed that Mandel made the reader feel such a strong sense of melancholy/nostalgia for the time period we are currently living in. She's such a gifted writer.

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  4. Jenny, she really is a gifted writer and I'll probably read whatever she comes up with next. Utopia may be a little boring. Can there really be "perfection" when there is nothing against which to compare it? In any event, liked this one a lot.

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  5. I have a copy of this to read and I keep hesitating as I'm sure it's going to be upsetting. I have the kind of mind that often thinks about how easy it would be to disrupt our way of life, so reliant on global trade and excessive use of power supplies. It's like it's all here in my head already! But I've heard such good things about this novel and everyone I read has raved about it. So one day I will have to be brave enough! Loved your review, Grad.

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  6. Litlove, it is a disturbing book and often quite a sad book, and yet weirdly hopeful, very well written, and thought provoking. When you do read it,you should follow up with something fun (for instance, I'm reading Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler. Sharply witty), because like you I would otherwise tend to dwell on our how powerless we would be in such a situation. With all that said, the book was time well spent (but I won't be reading a doomsday book again for quite some time.)

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  7. Grad, I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed this novel. It was my favorite read of 2014. I had a hellacious "book hangover" after finishing it. I had to turn to my Old Faithful (Pride and Prejudice) to come out of the spell of Station Eleven. I felt similarly, marveling at the crazy, beautiful, magical world we live in (you flick a switch and lights come on? How crazy is that?!?) I read somewhere that Mandel wanted to write a love letter to the world in which we live. I think she succeeded! Great review!

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  8. Bigreadinglife, this is one of those books I'll probably re-read again and again. And, yes, I too had to find something to take my mind off Station Eleven. It is a very powerful book and you are absolutely right, it is a love letter to the world.

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  9. Thanks for the wonderful review. Yes, often it's the dystopia that brings more stories than utopias. Last I read, the book's TV and Film rights have been sold. So, we just might be looking at a TV miniseries or even a feature film adaptation. Would you like to see that? I know, those who love the book usually would not want it turned into a movie. But if it's done well, more people will be able to appreciate the story. Quite like The Martian. Are you going to see that movie? or Vera Brittain's memoir Testament of Youth. I'd never heard of it until watching the film. Now it's on my TBR list.

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  10. Arti, I'm not surprised about this being turned into a series or film - although rarely is the film version as good as the book. I enjoyed Station Eleven very much, even though it is a little out of my usual reading fare. I would like to see The Martian once it's available On Demand, although I am not inclined to read the book.

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  11. Very much enjoyed reading your review. I loved this book and my reading group loved it, too. What Mandel said about people turning to art and literature when they have lost everything, hence the group of travelling players performing A Midsummer Night's dream where society has broken down was very poignant.

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