Wednesday, 30 December 2015

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St John Mandel

I do not recommend reading a book about a flu pandemic while on a long fligh next to a woman with the snuffles. It was overnight Dallas to London, and I felt ready for the end of days when we reached Heathrow. In the book the pandemic takes just a few days to spread around the world. It’s airborne and kills in under twenty four hours. People survive if they are able to stay away from others for the first weeks, as everyone who is not immune dies very quickly.

The story follows a group of people who were all loosely connected with a production of King Lear in Toronto on what is called ‘Day 1’ of the pandemic. Mostly the story follows one of the child actors in Lear, who in the post-apocalyptic world tours with a group of performers mostly showing Shakespeare and Mozart. I struggle to believe that in those harsh times there’d be much appetite for this. I’d think there’d be more money in horrific dog fighting or gladiatorial displays or something. But perhaps I am a terrible person with insufficient respect for the human spirit.

Another strand of the story follows a group who survive because their plane is forced to land at a remote airport, where they all go on to live for the next few decades, with romances blossoming between jaded business travellers and Lufthansa cabin attendants. It’s an interesting novel, and I recommend it, though the apocalyptic setting is more engaging than the various individual plots. It certainly made the flight seem short, though it also made the snuffler terrifying.

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