Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven

I've heard lots of people buzzing about Station Eleven. My blogging friend, Amy, listed it as one of her favorite books from last year (and does a fantastic job of articulating the premise of the novel and why she enjoyed it). My book club selected this for one of our month's meetings (not until November, but I was already on the hold list, so when it came available I jumped at the chance to read it). I've been anxiously awaiting my turn. Perhaps I built up to it a bit too much. I just didn't love it as much as I had anticipated. It was good, but just good.

It is hard to even describe what it was about because it jumped around so much in time frames and character emphasis. When an ultra-potent virus wipes out 99.99 percent of the world's population, life as we know it is no longer. The story traces the lives of several individuals during, before, and after the pandemic strikes. A famous actor, Arthur, dies on the stage the night the pandemic hits. He has three wives and a son, whose life stories interweave with his. Then, there's the young actress, Kirsten, who watches him die and later is woven into his story, as well.

Kirsten manages to survive the pandemic and joins a travelling symphony. This symphony presents music and Shakespearean plays as it travels from town to town. Unfortunately, they pass through a town where a prophet rules with tyranny. This prophet is convinced that the end occurred for a reason and he and his followers, in their survival, are the chosen ones.

While the book presents some interesting things to think about, I felt somewhat dissatisfied with the way the whole premise was handled. The chapters were confusing and non-linear (not as confusing as the last YA book I read, however). The symphony is presented as both a salvation amid the devastation of the world's demise and also as a ridiculous frivolous thing to cling to in the midst of society's break down. I found it hard to nail down what exactly the author was trying to communicate. The inside cover promises "a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it."

Yes, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be in the world created in Station Eleven. I wondered how I would fare and what I would cling to. But, it was difficult to really get behind this vision of the world. It seemed so extreme and harsh. It seemed unreasonable that no sense of rebuilding took place for so many years. Characters were living in the same state of disarray twenty years after the apocalypse occurred. Yet, it also didn't seem as violent as I would imagine things could get.

As far as the relationships, they didn't really seem to be sustaining in any sense of the term. Arthur flits from relationship to relationship without ever really considering the other individuals. His best friend isn't much of a best friend. Kirsten never really allows herself to get close to anyone. The prophet is such a distortion of religious zeal that it felt like all religion was taking a hit as a result of his portrayal. Many characters didn't even warrant names, but were merely referred to by the instrument they played. I'm not sure where the relationships saved any of the characters from the horrible nature of this imagined world.

Moreover, I never felt invested in any of the characters. Out of all of them, the only one I felt drawn to was Miranda, Arthur's first wife, who is the author of the comic strip from which the novel gets its name. She had ups and downs. She invested herself in her calling to work on the graphic novel despite a total lack of support or encouragement. But, even with her character, I wasn't exactly sad when she met her demise.

I don't know if I can even adequately express why I didn't care for the book very much. Now, I'll have to wait three quarters of a year before I can hear what the rest of my book club thought of this book. It will be interesting to see if they fall in the camp of adoration or puzzlement at its many accolades.

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