Oh, wow. I think I have found my 2014 favorite for CBR. If you have not read Station Eleven, make it a priority. Even if you don’t like post-apocalyptic writing, you need to read it. It transcends the conventions of the genre and is a beautiful, uplifting, sad book.
Arthur Leander is a famous actor doing a theatrical rendition of King Lear when he drops dead of a heart attack. EMT Javeen Chaudhary rushes on stage to save him and meets child actress Kirsten Raymonde. That night, a deadly pandemic, the Georgia Flu, wipes out about 99% of the world’s population. This first portion sets the stage for the rest of the novel. Twenty years later, Kirsten is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe in Michigan, performing plays to the fragments of society that have been left. Her troupe crosses paths with a prophet, who digs a grave for anyone who dares to leave his district. Kirsten and Javeen continue to intersect with Arthur’s life, even twenty years after his death. The novel moves back and forth in time, to Arthur’s past life, to Kirsten’s future.
This novel is incredibly well-written. I like post-apocalyptic fiction, but this is particularly resonant. Mandel imagines a world that is far removed from the one we know, but could chillingly come to replace the one we know. It’s a world of great danger and great beauty. The fact that the troupe puts on Shakespearean performances is enough of a testament to the things that remain when technology and material goods vanish. I seriously cannot recommend this book enough to everyone. It’s an apocalyptic novel but it leaves out most of the gory details and horror that accompany most dystopian novels. So if you’re squeamish, you should be A-OK.