Saturday, August 16, 2014

Civilizations and Civilians are All Chasing Immortality

In Emily St. John Mandel's creative, fast paced and futuristic novel, "Station Eleven," Arthur Leander, a 51 year old, thrice married, infamous Shakespearean actor, collapses and dies on stage while performing King Lear. Jeevan Chaudnary, a directionless journalist/paparazzo rushes to the stage to help Arthur, while little Kirsten Raymonde, holding two comic books given to her by Arthur, looks on, frightened, from a stage wing.

Weeks later, an airborne invulnerable flu virus, wipes out 99.99% of the earth's population. Twenty years later, living on or off the grid is irrelevant. No electricity. No working cell phones. No available Internet. Gasoline is long gone. Ammunition is scarce. Canned goods are no longer. Small groups of survivors live in big box retail buildings and airports.

Clark Thompson, Arthur's old friend, stranded in an airport, starts an impromptu collection of old world items which eventually becomes the "Museum of Civilization." An adult Kirsten Raymonde, ironically becomes a Shakespearean actress with the "Traveling Symphony." Miranda, Arthur's first wife, a workaholic for Neptune Logistics, travels with Arthur's clouded glass paperweight. All the characters Emily St. John Mandel creates are connected to the iconic actor, Arthur Leander.

Grab your roll away suitcase, bottled water, compass, and pocket knife. Better know how to hunt and build a fire. Take the back roads and stay away from the cities. Rumor has it that a marauding, powerful prophet and his posse, are seeking to re-populate the earth. Tyler, son of Arthur and Elizabeth, (Arthur's second wife), is spewing scripture from The Book of Revelations. He is bullying and kidnapping people he chooses into joining his settlement, and killing those that threaten his idea of immortality.

Mandel's interesting theme of fragility and immortality remind the reader of the frailty of civilization, and illustrates each individual character's search for life's happy purpose and their quest for their own individual idea of immortal life through legacy. She gives us one common denomination in both the pre and post-pandemic societies that make life enjoyable: the ethereal, immortal plays and sonnets of Shakespeare, who himself, ironically, lived in a post-pandemic Renaissance civilization after the Black Death.


As a member of their Reader's Panel, read my review of Emily St. John Mandel's novel  "Station Eleven" (shortened for space) in the 2014 September Issue of Real Simple Magazine, page 39.