Thursday, February 19, 2015

What we're reading: Speculative Fiction

In Station Eleven, Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel chronicles the lives of a group of characters at the end of civilization.

At the beginning of the story, famous actor Arthur Leander suffers a heart attack on stage during his performance of King Lear. A man in the audience, Jeevan Chaudhury, rushes to help him, but it is too late. Later that evening, Jeevan receives a frantic phone call from a doctor friend that an unusually large number of flu patients were admitted to the hospital, most of them dying within several hours, and urges him to get out of the city as soon as possible. Jeevan takes the warning seriously, in contrast to most of the population, who view the new strand of Georgian flu as a distant threat.

Twenty years later, a small group of musicians and actors roam the desolate landscape manned by the few survivors of the epidemic. In this new world with no electricity, medicine, or transportation, everyone’s life is in constant danger. It is especially difficult for those who were old enough to remember civilization as it was, like Kirsten, who was a child actor present on the stage where Arthur Leander died. Now performing Shakespeare herself with the Traveling Symphony, Kirsten searches for meaning in her  new life as she desperately grasps for any memory before the collapse, and the one thing that fascinates her most of all – electricity.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel of remarkable emotional complexity. Although its premise does not deviate greatly from other novels of that genre, its deeply heartfelt treatment of the psychology of its characters makes the book well worth reading. Station Eleven is different from many other similar novels in that it is somewhat a cross between speculative and literary fiction, and it explores themes like the meaning of civilization as well as marriage, youth, fame, and family as it moves effortlessly back and forth through time, exploring the pre- and post-apocalypse lives of its characters.

Station Eleven is a 2014 National Book Award finalist. Burbank Public Library also owns it as an e-audio book.

Reviewed by Anush B., children's librarian

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