BY EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL
Perhaps it isn’t surprising, as we try to imagine our uncertain future, that this brilliant award-winning story about a pandemic hitting the world has become a must read in the current climate. Emily St. John Mandel’s best-selling novel, first published in 2014, follows a group of actors and musicians as they tour North America 20 years following a devastating flu pandemic. The Den were sceptical about reading a book of this subject matter, but we promise you, you will be enraptured by this remarkable read which is both beautifully written and incredibly inventive.
Arthur Leander, a well-known actor, collapses on stage playing King Lear at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. Kirsten, a child actor witnesses his fall and Jeevan, a young trainee paramedic, rushes from the audience to help him. That same night, the Georgia Flu, a deadly pandemic reaches North America and with it everything changes. The story moves forward 20 years to a new, post-pandemic world. Mandel has created a brilliantly imagined future of how the few disparate survivors have endured in a country with no electricity, no planes, no internet, no phones.
Kirsten is now a member of the Travelling Symphony, an eclectic group of artists who travel round North America’s post pandemic settlements performing music and Shakespeare. Jeevan settles in Severn City Airport. As a young man he can remember his previous life and sets up an impromptu museum of artifacts from the time before Georgia Flu. In the present day, Miranda, Arthur’s first wife gives him two copies of her meticulously hand-drawn comic book called “Station Eleven”. Dis-interested in the comic, Arthur sends one to his estranged son and gives a copy to Kirsten who sits with him in his dressing room before the performances. Mandel cleverly intertwines these moments into the future story as it moves between life before the pandemic to the current state of play.
The Den thought the beauty of the book came from its ability to show the value of life and that out of disaster and loss, people can come together and start afresh in an unrecognisable world. By not focusing on the immediate aftermath, but instead switching between the comfortable pre-flu era and Year 20, Mandel, with her brilliant storytelling has created a wonderfully gripping and lively read.