Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
This week, the easing of lockdown measures now being sanctioned across the UK has brought an uneasy feeling for those of us still concerned about the Covid-19 pandemic. The issue put me in mind of an incredible book I read recently that turned out to be surprisingly prescient – Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel.
Mandel’s 2014 novel won the Arthur C Clarke award for science fiction, but could perhaps be more accurately described as speculative fiction, given its all-too-real premise of a rapidly spreading flu pandemic. In Station Eleven, things go a bit further than our current plight. In the novel, the so-called ‘Georgia Flu’ wipes out huge swathes of humanity very rapidly, leaving only a few survivors, and modern civilisation is frozen in its wake.
The author brilliantly and seamlessly interweaves the stories of several characters who feature in ‘Year Zero’ of the pandemic, and in the decades afterwards. Among many others, we meet Arthur, a renowned film actor who has a last hurrah playing King Lear on the stage just as the flu is spreading, and dies sensationally on stage from an unrelated heart attack. There’s Kristen, the young woman who, 20 years after the devastation is now part of a travelling orchestra and Shakespearean company, who has a strange connection with Arthur from her childhood, and we also meet the former paparazzo turned paramedic Jeevan, whose story is also entwined with theirs.
Mandel’s story tackles the idea of what would constitute ‘civilisation’ if the world as we knew it was suddenly and dramatically altered. She explores issues of religious zealotry, the construction of fame and notoriety, the expression of art through media as diverse as comic books, theatre and even museum curation. Her narrative explores a post-apocalyptic world while never giving up on humanity, and ends with a wonderful note of hope that we can rebuild again. It’s a stunning novel, and feels ripe for our current times. That is why Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is my Book of the Week, this week.