Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed. (Summary via Amazon.com)
Station Eleven is a pretty celebrated novel, and when I picked it up, I discovered why. It’s compulsively readable in the same manner as The Martian (although not even close to the same writing style), and it’s an interesting and bittersweet look at the things that make us human, that make life worth living.
After a deadly flu kills the majority of the world’s population, despite all efforts to stop it, civilization grinds to a halt. A group of musicians and actors travels the country, bringing Shakespeare to small, scattered towns that have sprung up wherever a handful of survivors could be found. The story line bounces between the two timelines–before and after the flu. The life, love, and drama of the pre-flu characters becomes more powerful and sometimes more sad because the reader knows that a few short years later, almost all of these characters will be dead.
The postapocalyptic characters are fascinating for a different reason. Some of them remember “modern conveniences” like the internet, air conditioning, and electricity, while others are children who have grown up in a society when it is normal to learn to protect yourself with weapons and strangers are hardly ever welcome. Kirsten is a member of the traveling troupe. She doesn’t remember her first year on the road, after the flu, but she remembers her night on stage with a famous actor and collects articles and memorabilia about him whenever the troupe comes across an un-looted house.
The connections between these two groups of people and the very different drama that their lives contain makes for a fascinating, dark novel. It left me thinking, that’s for sure.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good