Book Club Reflection: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

25 Jan

I’m excited to share my second post about Great Michigan Reads selection, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve previously posted a book review you can read here. This was one of my top books of 2015 and if you haven’t picked it up yet, I really highly recommend it. You can follow along with the posts I have forthcoming (at least two more).

Emily St. John Mandel Image via Michigan Radio

Emily St. John Mandel
Image via Michigan Radio

Emily St. John Mandel was born in British Columbia and studied dance in school. I liked that the story focused a lot in her native country, Canada, and not in her current place of residence, the United States. She was homeschooled as a child and every day had to write a story or poem which helped fuel her love for writing. She currently lives in New York and in the opinion of my book club, she looks a lot like Anne Hathaway.

Jeevan had an interesting role in the book, being at the beginning and appearing throughout. Whatever his role was, he was anonymous or unknown to the characters he was interacting with. He was ‘the paramedic in the crowd,’ ‘the paparazzo,’ ‘the doctor.’ His brother and later his wife knew him well, but the main characters in the story were always removed from him, like he was there to help but never to participate fully.

By the end, he’d found his purpose and calling in the medical field. Finding a purpose was important in the story. Arthur never found his. He was always acting, even in front of his good friend, Clark, and his wives. He tried to be close with his son, but it never worked out. The symphony, on the other hand, had found their purpose in performance. For them, surviving wasn’t enough. They needed something else to keep them going, to help them feel connected to humanity. Art and performance was their purpose, something Arthur never seemed to find.

We had hoped Miranda would make it back to North America. She was describing the boats in the water that would have been isolated with no contact to the outside world and the virus. She could have been safe if she’d made it to those boats and sailed away. On the last pages, Clark mentions ships sailing out in search of other humans. We thought that would be Miranda. Kirsten is a lot like an heir to her because she has the comic books and the paper weights and it would have been really cool to have them know about each other.

The comic was an unusual way to tie the characters together and parallel the main plot at the same time. The comic characters want to return to what they knew before their world was destroyed which is the goal of many of the inhabitants of Year 20. With the two copies in the world, Tyler and Kirsten take them and interpret them completely differently. This isn’t so different from how religious works are interpreted in different ways by individuals or sects. Having them come together at the end and fight was a really cool way to see what determination and the passage of time did to Tyler to make him into the Prophet and how it helped keep Kirsten grounded.

The tagline ‘Survival is Insufficient’ permeated Kirsten and the novel. Books could have survived in libraries, but music would have been lost. No radio and no way to play recorded music erases all the history of music but having survival as a main priority almost completely wiped out the players. The symphony must have been one of a kind. The people who came to hear them probably hadn’t heard music in years besides what they could sing themselves.

One of our members lived in a small, remote town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a few years and she told us about groups performing opera, ballet, bluegrass and other mediums that would come to town and be attended by everyone in town. There wasn’t a lot to do for culture and arts so when the opportunity presented itself, the whole town grabbed it and took advantage of the time. The Traveling Symphony would have attracted crowds in much the same way for a long time. It’s similar to when traveling circuses would roll into town and attract crowds.

We questioned why Shakespeare was performed. Other than the tie-in Shakespeare has with the plague in Europe, they’re well-surviving plays that can be performed without technology. In Shakespeare’s time, there wasn’t lighting and special effects and sets like you’d see in 2016. They could be performed with simpler techniques which the magicians knew how to do. Plus, there would have been plenty of copies available at abandoned schools and libraries and people would be familiar with the topics. The culture had started to evolve to a point where some were ready to start creating their own art as demonstrated by the Clarinet writing her own play. Their way of life was stable enough to start making something of their own.

Would the remote societies of Mandel’s world have been as impacted? Would the small towns with limited access to major towns have been hit by the illness? How self-sustaining could they have been and could they still be there? Small island nations might not have been touched at all and indigenous people might not have noticed. We tend to think of society as those who are connected but there is still a large group of people who would have been less impacted and could still be living a similar to what they had before the flu.

The flu gave humanity to start the world over. We could have stopped the evil and violence that had become engrained in societal dynamics but it was still there. Good and evil would not go away, it’s something that we can’t wash out of human nature. There is a shame and a pride in the tattoos Kirsten has on her wrists. She doesn’t want to talk about those she’s killed, but she feels a need to recognize that it’s happened. There’s an organization to the society that could not be escaped. People still form into groups and cities.

We were left hanging at the end. So many of our group wanted them to go on to the city with electricity. One member predicted that they would go, perform, and leave the city. They did just fine without lights and their purpose was to perform so staying did no good. As of now, I can’t find any Station Eleven on Fanfiction.net, but I’m sure someone is writing it somewhere.

I’m looking forward to another discussion on this book in late February. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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