Monday, 15 September 2014

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Rating: 5/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of publisher!

"Survival is insufficient" 

It all started during a performance of King Lear, celebrated actor Arthur Leander playing the title role of course, during the fourth act it  became clear that something was very, very wrong. Paramedic in training Jeevan jumps on stage to help, but it's too late. After comforting Kirsten, one of the young girls playing one of King Lears daughters, he starts to head home when he gets a worrying phone call from a friend. Leave town, he says, leave town, this flu is a pandemic. But he can't leave, after stocking up on essentials he lugs multiple trolleys to his brothers flat, where he will watch the world as we know it end.

That was day one. The day the Georgia Flu spread unnaturally fast all over the world, with a 99% mortality rate. Over the next few days everything slowly shuts down and by week two...civilization is over. No running water, no electricity, no internet, no TV, looting, food get the idea.

In that first initial  year, many people walked, wandering through borders that no longer existed, looking for other people, looking for some semblance of the old world. Those initial years where dangerous times, violence everywhere. But by year 20, things have settled down as much as could be expected,  life is going on, and a travelling band of actors and musicians, the Travelling Symphony. They travel around this new world performing Shakespeare, we join them as they're heading back to the town they left two of their members at to have a baby, but they're not there and something is very wrong. We join them journeying to the Museum of Civilization at Severn City Airport to reunite with their friends, but the journey is by no means smooth. Disappearances, a strange marking that appears again on a mans face, and the mysterious Prophet, all conspire to make the journey....interesting.

Meanwhile we switch back and forth between the hectic and bustling pre Flu world just before the collapse, and the deserted and changed world left behind after the Flu twenty years later. We follow the interconnected lives of six people, Arthur Leander and the rise of his acting career; Jeevan and his new life post flu; Arthurs first wife Miranda and the creation of her comic book; Clark, Arthurs oldest friend and a certain curator; Kirsten, the young actress with few memories of her time before the flu, now travelling with the Symphony.

"If you can remember your lines in questionable territory, you'll  be fine on stage" 

I've seen a lot of people loving this book, and the entire premise intrigued me, as an actor, how could it not? With regards to the whole Shakespeare, Travelling Symphony thing.....obviously. I still wasn't entirely sure what to expect, i'll be honest, but I was really excited to start reading. I only meant to read a little bit of it before bed, but once I fell in to the book, I couldn't get back out!  It was beautiful and emotional and for me it was very thought provoking! Or maybe I read too much in to it because it was 4am? Who knows!

The opening scene gave me chills, and drew me straight in. I was hooked from there on out. The ominous comments in the narrative, like saying "so and so would die from the flu in X amount of days" also helped with the intrigue, making you want to read on as well as being slightly chill inducing.

As you read the book there's at one point a list of things no longer available shall we say, and there's other things that are mentioned, and it makes you realize how many things you take for granted. Watching a film, antibiotics, and so on, there's so many things we'd be lost without and the book kind of makes you realize you don't always appreciate them that much. Some of the things that are described, like a plane ride at night for instance, you realize that you never fully acknowledged the beauty of it. Although I will admit I thought I was the only person who did it! Think about the people in the houses etc, I mean.

"No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment." 
The book was written very beautifully, with tight and concise prose, and a fantastic smooth flow with fast pacing. The way the book was written, it makes you appreciate things you overlook on a regular basis, and it kind of made me want to go out for a walk, and just look at all the beauty in the world. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I'd miss or dream about, how I'd feel if I was living in that world and trying to picture my environment in the context of that world.

Despite what you may think, the book was actually quite humorous in certain places, I had the odd chuckle. I loved the term "iPhone zombie", I'm totally going to nick that! It also made me laugh how Jeevan was singing "it's the end of the world as we know it" because the lyrics crossed my mind multiple times as we reading certain parts!

"I'm talking about those people who've ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They've done what's expected of them. They want to do something different but it's impossible now" 

As I've said the book is quite thought provoking, but not always because of the whole "what if this happened to me" thing, for instance page 163 particularly resonated with me, as I'm sure it will with others of all ages, those who are scared of it happening, those who are experiencing it and so on. It's very relate-able at multiple points in the story.

"but then by four or five o'clock the day's just turned into yet another day, and you go on like that, looking forward to five o'clock and then the weekend and then your two or three annual weeks of paid vacation time, day in day out, and that's what happened to your life" 

Man I don't think I've ever seen working in retail described so accurately, with the break room and talking to colleagues and everything. The clock watching, looking forward to the end of shift and then doing it all again the next day. Seriously. Perfectly describes most peoples lives I would think.

The contrast between the bustling cities, people bumping in to each other, constant noise and light and so on, and then the silence and near empty world post-flu was at times subtle, and at times quite obvious and almost jarring. It was perfectly shown.

What struck me about the world after the flu, was that a few things where like being thrown back to the Victorian era, the caravans the symphony has for example, where like Victorian coaches but made out of pick-up trucks! It was also striking how kids born after the flu don't know what certain things are like a circus, and have to have airplanes and air condition and things explained to them, I was trying to picture having to explain something like that to a kid who never experienced it and I didn't get very far!

The world building was fantastic. It could be visualized perfectly and it totally engrossed you. You really felt like you where there. It was very atmospherically written, and you got so much out of the description with few words. The creepy forest for example, well forests always creep me out with the whole "someone could be watching me" thing, but the emotion and the feeling from that atmosphere oozed off the page. Not to mention the creepy school. I dare you to find someone who's ever been in a school after everyone has left, and for them to not find it creepy. But things like that became even creepier when you picture it abandoned etc. Not to mention the roads chock full of abandoned cars complete with skeletons.

"The perpetual hum of the city fading away"

Kirsten was an interesting character, she doesn't remember much from before the flu and doesn't remember the first year after. She does however remember Arthur, and she keeps looking for magazines with photos of him in, and she has the comics he gave her called Doctor Eleven. It was intriguing, how you wanted to know what happened in that missing year she doesn't remember, you never find out so it's kind of left to your imagination to create that year for her.

My opinion of Arthur changed a lot, I started out feeling sorry for him because it was so very sad they had to call his lawyer when he died instead of a loved one, and then I kind of thought he was a bit of an ass multiple times, but then I just felt incredibly sad for him again. I liked learning about Arthurs acting career, how it started, how it developed and so on, it was an interesting journey to watch, especially from my view point. I think it was his last day from his POV that just made me feel incredibly sad for him.

The book also gives us an interesting look at fame, and fully shows that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. I think a lot of people think being papped and followed by paps is glamorous because it means they're famous or whatever, but the book shows what an invasion of privacy it is and how they kind of look at celebrities who are actual real people, like dollar signs. Particularly when Arthur's being wheeled to the ambulance. You see the relationship between paps and celebrities a little bit, the waitress tipping the paps off, them staking out Arthurs house and so on.

We get a slight story within multiple stories when we get told the plotline for Station 11, the comic book. It was expertly woven in, as where the mentions of it when we're getting Miranda's POV. I thought it was striking how in the comic, their world has changed, they're living on a world mostly water with no sun and all one group of people wants to do is go home, and when you think about it, the post-flu people just want them same thing, except home to them is the old world. The Undersea people in the comic cling to the hope of the world being restored much like Kirsten and co.

There are so many connections throughout the book, the Doctor Eleven comic book, the dogs name Luli, a paperweight, things that are all connected to multiple characters and entwining them even more. A lot of these connections, connect the pre and post flu worlds. The paperweight I mentioned? Clark gave to Arthur and Miranda, she took it and gave it to Arthur who gave it to Tanya who gave it to Kirsten, which she still carries around the post flu world. Every single character is connected, they've all touched each others lives at some point. I loved looking out for the other characters in the others stories and being all "AHA".

The transition to pre-flu is smooth and flawless, you can picture a movie version of the book where a picture or a word triggers the screen to fade in to a flashback to the pre-flu days. It all links back so flawlessly. For instance, Kirsten was looking at a certain tabloid photo of Arthur and Miranda, then we go pre-flu Miranda is recalling the circumstances around the photo. Then at another point Miranda goes out to the paps, one of which is Jeevan, to ask for a cigarette, and took a candid photo of her that he later recalls taking. Every single character has a connection that is made apparent.

I'm sure it's obvious from what I said so far, but the POV switching was also flawless. Clark's and Miranda's provided an interesting little view point of a famous actor from the view of two people who've known him since before he was famous. They can see what he's become, see that he's not perfect. I found it really interesting that on two separate occasions Clark and Miranda note that it seems like he's performing or acting when he's interacting with them. Does an actor get so used to acting they do it all the time? Can they not turn it off? Or is he doing it because he mentioned his life was like a movie and he's created a facade?

The idea of actors being immortal is something I've always thought, films will last forever after all, but in the book it's the tabloids that have lasted, it's the tabloids that have kept actors immortal. It was yet another point in the story where I thought "this is me, I think that".

We get Kirsten and the Travelling Symphony's story, going to get Charlie etc. We get Arthurs story, becoming an actor, what his life was like. From Miranda we see her relationship with Arthur develop, we see it's decline and her sense of not belonging in his world, and we see it come full circle when he dies. Jeevan's story lets us in to the life of someone who has no idea what they want to do, we see him as a pap, we see him trying his hand at entertainment journalism, through Jeevan we get chills as we watch the world collapse after the flu, and we see his journey to finally settling down, and becoming a doctor. Finally, with Clark, we see what happened to those last few flights, we see everyone stranded at an airport, including Arthurs second wife and son, and we see what life was like at the airport for the people who where stuck there and eventually made a home there. And we see Clark finally create the Museum. All these stories are expertly woven in to one with flawless transition, each as engaging as the next, each perfectly placed.

I thought the transcripts from Kirstens interview with the librarian in one town was a great way to let us know Kirsten a bit more, understand more about her, and see what the world is currently like with the different towns, some more sane than others. It kept the narrative fresh and was an intriguing break in said narrative. Arthurs letters to V where again, an intriguing break in the narrative, keeping it fresh and engaging. It also gave you a real insight in to the real Arthur, and what an acting career is like with the struggles and so on, and how fame affects a person.

I loved the ending. The Prophet was taken care of, but everything made sense. You saw two people with the same reading material and how they reacted differently to it and the situation. I loved how you where left with the knowledge that one village has electricity back for the first time in 20 years, you're left with the thought that in the book, the world has just taken it's first step to righting itself, to fixing itself. It was the perfect ending.

Station Eleven is so incredibly unique. It's emotional, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry or at least want to cry, it's incredibly movng, it's chilling/spine tingling at points, heartbreaking at others. Haunting, bittersweet almost and so beautifully written. Engaging through and through, you won't be able to put the book down or stop thinking during and after reading it. It might even change your outlook on life, maybe you'll look up and take in the world around you as you walk to work or wherever instead of keeping your eyes glued to your phone. Maybe you'll look for the beauty in the world and lock it away in your memory....just in case.

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