Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel, Alfred A Knopf, 2014, 232 pp
When I saw the movie based on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I decided not to read the book yet. It has been four years now and I still haven't read it though I am a fan of his writing. I read Station Eleven and realized that of all the post-apocalyptic novels out there, this is the one I wanted to read. It is The Road written by a woman.
In saying this I take nothing away from Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy, because as far as I am concerned nothing can be taken away from those three novels. Atwood, as always, works on a larger canvas. Emily St John Mandel brings us the intimate details of small personal lives.
I finished reading Station Eleven about three weeks ago and am slightly embarrassed to say that I don't remember what the title refers to. One of the reasons the book is not horrific is that the virus that obliterated over 90% of humanity was an incident from more than a decade earlier, but the characters are survivors of that pandemic and the setting is made up of the best of what's still around.
Most of the characters are members of a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians who call themselves the Traveling Symphony. If I were a post-apocalyptic survivor, I sure would not want to be stuck in some stinking community raising food and scavenging for whatever is left. I'd want to be roaming from settlement to settlement bringing the magic of theater and music to all the sad starving people.
I'd want my closest companions to be called "the second clarinet" and so on and I would be militant towards anyone who messed with my company. I would possess treasured secret memories of actors and musicians who brought salvation to audiences on any given night back when there was electricity, the internet, cell phones, fuel, hotels, abundant food but most of all art.
So it is for the actors and musicians of the Traveling Symphony. They have their memories which become part of the fabric of this tale. They have fierce loyalties to each other and a sense of purpose for their personal and collective existence. This novel is their story.
I have read and loved each of Emily St John Mandel's novels: Last Night in Montreal, The Singer's Gun, and The Lola Quartet. She is a magician who creates spells over her readers by means of characters, language, and a special understanding of all types of artists. She is a one woman trauma unit for victims of horrific events. I want her to have a long successful career as a novelist so I can read each book as it is published.
With Station Eleven she moved from the independent publisher Unbridled Books to the big time of Alfred A Knopf. That move is bringing her the increased recognition she deserves. Knopf better be good to her. I'm already miffed that her book tour does not include an appearance in Los Angeles. But I'm not too worried because a talent like hers could survive anything just as the main character of Station Eleven does.
(Station Eleven is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)