Friday, November 14, 2014

21. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was recommended to me by ex-50 booker (though still fairly prolific reader) Buzby and since I am always on the lookout for Canadian "genre" authors, I went for it.  Also, it gave me an excuse to support a local sci-fi/fantasy bookstore in Toronto and it fits into my new trade paperback reading strategy.  Finally, it's a book that makes me feel contemporary and hip when I read it in public locations (in the train station, I carried under my arm in such a way that you could see the author's photo).  So many compelling reasons to read Station Eleven!

The book itself is definitely a page-turner.  It's an interesting hybrid of "genre" and "literary".  Mandel is walking the same path as Cormac Macarthy wrapping what are basically good stories of action and adventure in a package that will make it appealing to the medium-brow mainstream.  Station Eleven is a post-plague world without us novel that references pulpy graphic novels as a serious art form but is also an exploration of character and modern-day relationships.  One of the main storylines is of a band of travelling musicians in the rebuilding wasteland in conflict with a religious cult that has ninja forest skills, but it is told in non-linear fashion, interwoven with pre-plague narratives that slowly give us the backstory of various characters and weave the entire thing into an exploration of one particular character who dies before the plague even starts.

This hybrid form forced me to ask myself what I really like.  I feel like this is an honest effort and the author's understanding of comics, sci-fi and the dystopian sub-genre appear to be deep and personal, not just slumming it as we have seen with some mainstream literary authors (only to get skewered on the pen of Ursula K. Le Guin).  But in the end, I wasn't clear on what the point of this novel was.  It seems to be ultimately one of those meditations on character, where the narrative takes a back seat to the attempt at sharing some kind of "truth" with the reader.  That's a bit ungenerous on my part, as I think here it is more of a feeling about the worth of a life and how we impact each other in our interconnected world than a truth.  It was a pleasant book overall and left me with a nice feeling, but it also didn't live up to the promise of its premise.  When it was over, I felt that it was just over.

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