Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review of Station Eleven, a Novel by Emily St. John Mandel

I thought that if I keep reading literary novels, I would become literary.  As my 3-year old granddaughter says whenever Joni sings, "eh eh."  When will I learn that I'm just a low-tech reader?  Probably never.  Station Eleven is such a novel.  I liked it, but I didn't really get it. Once again I say that this is NOT the book's or author's fault.  Lauren recommended it initially.  And I saw several highly rated reviews from fellow bloggers.  I take full responsibility for picking it.  Would I recommend it?  It's a 2.75/4.  So I would say not so much.  A little, maybe, but not a lot.

As I often do, I'm going to quote the back cover of the book:

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack onstage  during a production of King Lear.  That was also the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive.  But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band's existence.  And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

I have to say that I was immediately caught up in the story.  It starts with Arthur's death during a performance and goes right into the flu that kills off much of the people in the world.  I'm not opposed to a good dystopian novel.  And I even liked how it went from 20 years in the future back and forth to the years, days, and months prior to the calamity.  But I just really wasn't able to make sense of how it ends.  And, unfortunately (here it comes...ready?), I never made any emotional connection with any of the characters.  Is that common in a dystopian story?  I can't say.  I can only address this one.  I knew I was in trouble when there was a "big reveal" on page 280 (of 333), and I said out loud:  "So what."

To be sure, there is some good writing here.  Such as:

"He felt extravagantly, guiltily alive.  The unfairness of it, his heart pumping faultlessly while somewhere Arthur lay cold and still."  (That's pretty evocative)

"There was something obnoxious, he thought, in people who introduced themselves by their surnames while calling one by one's first." (Haven't we all felt this way, at one time or another?)

And then there are 3 passages that reminded me, 1st, of a movie, 2nd, of my dad, and 3rd, of a play.  In the 1st, shoe polish is used to cover up scuffs.  Remember the opening scene of Pretty Woman?  In the 2nd, people live in an IHOP.  In my father's later years, I used to take him to an IHOP near his residence once a week so that he could order the Rooty Tooty, Fresh and Fruity.  And, coincidentally, this weekend I had lunch at an IHOP off of highway 5 on my way to Los Angeles.  Too weird!  And in the 3rd, some friends of mine and I put on 2 performances of Guys and Dolls on 12/31/99 in honor of the Millennium.  During one of our early rehearsals, when we were reading our lines, Nathan Detroit said "clopping" instead of "eloping."  So when I saw "clopping" on page 301, I had to chuckle.

That' it, folks.


  1. I like to read classics but not necessarily 'literary' fiction. As a reader, I'm often too caught up in what will happen rather than how well it was written. I like the concept of this one but definitely one I can skip!

    1. You might like it. Lots of people do. But I think it's okay if you don't get to it.

  2. That's usually the way I am with literary fiction. I appreciate the writing but feel no connection to the story. I've seen great reviews of this one but have a feeling I'd feel like you did about it so I think I'll skip it.

    1. It's interesting that this is a pattern for me. The Girl on the Train is probably one of the better examples. Everybody raved about it, and, for me, it was the story of 5 dysfunctional characters - and I didn't care about any of them! I'm glad to see that it's not just me that feels that way.