Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Hypochondriac's Guide to Books: Station Eleven

This is a review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was my book club's selection in December. We pick our books in a pretty simple way: at a meeting, a few people will nominate books they'd like to read, and then we vote on the three or four books suggested. I never once voted for this book, and it came up again and again, month after month. Finally, it was selected, and I had to stop pouting about it and read the dang thing.

Symptoms: This was pitched to me as a story about how 99 percent of the world's population gets killed off by the flu. NO THANKS.

Examination: Well sure, there's the flu. There isn't actually much description of the flu. I mean, people are tired, and sick, and they die, but the flu is not the point of the story, and so it isn't played up for dramatic effect or anything. It's so matter-of-fact.

The point of this book is what happens after so much of the population has been killed. The phone lines go down. People try to escape the cities they're in (to go where?) and they run out of gas and abandon their vehicles on the highway. People are stranded with no way to get in touch with loved ones that are not immediately close at hand. TV stations eventually go dead.

The story begins with an actor who has a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear, the night the flu pandemic begins. (No, the heart attack is not described graphically, and other than the fact that it happened; it is an impetus to move the plot forward, and not an event unto itself.) A child actress witnesses the actor's collapse and a man from the audience's attempt to revive him, and suddenly there are so many things happening, different characters affected by this one event, followed by another event that changes everything, and how they get on with their lives now that nothing will ever be the same.

The medical stuff that stuck out to me: There is a group of people that, post-pandemic, find themselves living in an airport after all the flights have been grounded. There is a woman who has some kind of mental health condition (depression? it's been a while since I read it, and this wasn't that important), and asks all the people in the airport if they have the prescription she needs. (It's unsafe to leave the airport, and looters have already done their work in a lot of the towns.) She is unable to find it, and eventually leaves the airport, because she is unable to cope without her medication, choosing instead to see if it's possible to find help out "there." There is also a man who talks about his family, one of whom was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and it is implied that the same thing must have happened — eventually they would have run out of insulin, and would have been out of luck.

Diagnosis: Turns out, this isn't even really about the flu, so stop being a pansy. This caused me to pause and consider the end of the world for a long time after I had finished reading, and I didn't waste a second thought on the flu that caused it. What struck me most about this book was how thought-out it was; regardless of what causes the end of the world (whether disease, or nuclear holocaust, or something else), I could absolutely picture this being how people would react, and what the outcome would look like.

Prognosis: You'll be fine. I loved this book and gave it five stars. (Sorry book club friends!) The post-apocalyptic aspect has really stuck with me, and not a lot of books continue to follow me around once I'm done with them. It was very good.

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