Friday, 26 June 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven

A major part of the reading exercise was to pick things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have given a second thought, this in turn led me to question the sorts of books I’d always read and in turn, why it was I’d read those sorts of books.

I like heroes and villains, I like it when the line between them is blurred, I like fast paced and hard hitting, I like it when you have some idea of what’s coming next...

And that brings me to the first book on my review list.

Station Eleven

The quote on the back says “Beautifully written and wonderfully elegiac”

Elegiac?  Really?

Go ahead, look it up, I had to...

Station Eleven is a story about Arthur Leander, a man who dies in the first chapter of the book, on the evening that a deadly virus arrives in North America and wipes out the world within a few weeks.  Those who survived the virus did so mostly by being away from the rest of the world, or in places where the virus didn’t manage to spread to, there is no talk of anyone being immune to this virus, which is a refreshing change from the usual group of resilient survivors.

The next chapters tell of civilisation as it falls, but not in a voyeuristic way, more in momentary glimpses of individual worlds as they ended, not knowing they were ending.  There’s no shock, horror, tactics at work, it’s simple prose narrating what (for the omnipotent narrator) is just another day on the world.

The story then shifts again, to a time many years after, when some of those who knew Arthur are now part of a travelling show that goes from town to town and performs in return for food or shelter for the evening.  Life has changed much since the removal of technology from it, modern medicines are no longer present, and while there are dangers, there are far less of them, because there are far less people in general. 

But there are still dangers...

The pace of the book isn’t fast, but nor does it crawl, what it did for me was hold my attention to the page.  I read in one chapter of the dangers presented by a new age preacher and those following him, and in the next chapter, was thrown back twenty years previous to a time when Arthur Leander was still alive, and read of things that he did in his life that unknowingly would affect a world decades after his death.

The best stories are woven, and I haven’t seen a better example in recent years than this.  There are many threads to the cloth of the story, from Arthur and his flawed existence, to Clark who preserves the civilisation of the past as best he can, to Kirsten making her way in the new world, and each of them has a distinct voice, but not so distinct that they drown out the sound of the others.  The threads only come together in the last few pages, and to put even a summation of where it went would be to ruin the nature of this book.  Life is a journey, and when you reach the end of it, you find yourself looking back and wondering what else you could have done if you’d threaded things a little different.  This book is a journey, I understand the ending, but I can also see the ways in which it could have gone so differently.

Throughout, the writing is simple, not trying to use big words to score points (Elegiac anyone?), but instead the right words, and the right words are rarely complex.  The characters are not as detailed as they could have been, but that allows the reader to imprint on them all the more, and the ending, while not triumphant (which would have been inappropriate given the setting), is satisfying, it leads to a greater sense of the world out there.

Most of all, the way in which the story strips away the nature of what we are now and presents the image of what we were once and could be again is the greatest strength of it. 

I liked this story a lot, it made me resolve to open my horizons more often...