I’d been hearing behind-the-scene’s buzz about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven for a while before I finally picked it up. Many of my fellow Rioters have read it, loved it, and recommended it, and it has slowly worked its way through our ranks. That’s one of the ways that I measure just how good a book is – just how fast the buzz makes it around the Riot back channels and how long it lasts. The build on this one was slow, but constant, so I knew it was going to be worth my time.
It’s hard to explain exactly what is so appealing about Station Eleven. There are no individual elements that I can point to as standing out. It’s the sum of the whole that is so impressive. She tells a story about the end of the world, focusing on the stories of just a handful of characters. It is a select group, one made up of individuals from around the world who find themselves among the survivors. Although they don’t realize it, they are connected. It is a tenuous connection to a man who died on stage while performing his King Lear in front of a packed house just days before the flu takes hold, but it is remarkable. In a world where everyone is alone, any connection is significant. The story is beautifully told. I got wrapped up in it in a way that I didn’t see coming. It was, dare I say, mesmerizing.
So, if you read it (and if you haven’t, then you need to go and do so NOW), and you’re still under her spell, I’ve got a few recommendations for you.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
This book is what I found myself thinking about the entire time I read Station Eleven. It’s another take on post-catastrophic illness story, where most of the population has been wiped out by an illness. It’s not as long after the outbreak as the 20 years that elapse in Station Eleven, and the people have yet to pull together to form new communities. They are still very much isolated and very afraid. They know that to find another human being is to put their lives at risk. The story is sad but beautiful. Heller’s storytelling is just as captivating as Mandel’s. If you loved one, you’ll love the other. I promise.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
This book is not about dealing with the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. It’s more about learning to live in a world that you know will be coming to an end – literally. It’s about the struggle to keep living your life like nothing has changed, then, when you can’t pretend any more, figuring out a new way to live. It’s a story about a young girl trying to get through the toughest phase of her childhood at a time when their the added complication of the world slowing down and, eventually, stopping. Julia is a strong character, and she never gives up hope. She’s a lot like Mandel’s Kirsten in that way. They’re both survivors, and they find things to hold onto. It’s an admirable trait.
This is one story, told over the course of three books. Each book approaches the story from a different angle. They do not have to be read in any certain order, as their timelines overlap and converge. Reading just one of the books requires a bit of faith – or at least it did in me – that the next two will be worth it. I promise you, after giving up on Oryx & Crake on more than one occasion, that the three books together are among the best I’ve ever read. The sum is greater than its parts. It’s a grand story, one of the end of one society and the emergence of another. It takes on technology and agriculture and hunger. It is about survival and makes the reader wonder whether or not the human race, as it exists, deserves to survive. Maybe things need to change.
Now, off with you. You have some books to read, and I need to talk to the bees.
(If you read all of these books, you’ll get that reference. I promise.)
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