I had lots of nightmares last night.
Yesterday was my day off and, consequently, I spent the day reading Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven. Right now, you might be jumping to the conclusion that I disliked the book, what with the nightmares and such. Au contraire, mon frere. I had nightmares because the subject matter is just a tad intense and I have a serious problem with projection. Thus, if I spend the entire day reading about a twenty-something, knife-wielding, Shakespeare-loving girl who survives a horrific disease that wipes out 99% of the Earth’s population, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be said heroine in my dreams but, unfortunately, even in my dreams, I’m a total spazz and can’t survive the apocalypse.
Mandel’s novel is a quick read; it’s one of those books that could easily be consumed in one day, and likely will be, since once you start reading it, you’ll be hard-pressed to get yourself to put it down for some waste of time, like sleep or nourishment. As mentioned earlier, most of the book happens from the perspective of Kirsten, who is one of the “lucky” few who somehow avoids catching the Georgian Flu. I put “lucky” in quotation marks because the book masterfully makes readers wonder whether it would be best to survive only to face conditions we find unfathomable here in 2015 or to just die with the rest of the world. At one point, there is a list of things that no longer exist in the post-civilization world and, while at first it seemed obvious and unnecessary, the list kept going and going, listing things we rarely even remember to be thankful for, and to such an extent that readers are forced to face the magnitude of the situation at hand and the unbelievability of such a life.
Much of the novel focuses on Arthur Leander, an actor who bookends our experience of the catastrophe and is dissected throughout the novel; I read Arthur as a representation of the majority of readers: a well-intentioned but self-absorbed member of the 21st century who misses the end of civilization but, by existing before the end and contributing to the lives of others, remains an ongoing part of the new world. Kirsten is motivated by her desire to find more to life than mere survival, and is forced to defend herself and her friends (and the rest of the world’s remaining inhabitants) from the tyranny of those who seek to force their beliefs on others, as well as control and manipulate in order to serve their needs and desires.
This book can easily fit in the the “YA” category, so I attempted to read it not just for pleasure, but also with a perspective of potentially teaching it to students one day. It’s interesting to see how many lessons can be learned, and taught, with this book: the obvious critiques of technology dependence, our fascination with celebrities, and overzealous religious cult mindsets; our lack of appreciation for the many overlook-able blessings of the modern world; finding joy in literature and art can bring light in dark times; life is too short to do anything but that which you love. I’m excited to see what my future students get out of it and how I can use current books like Station Eleven to grab the interest of a larger number of students!
I’d love to know what everyone else thinks and don’t forget to read Hannah’s review if you want to know what both Shrews think!