“Hell Is Flutes”
A writer who can pry that paraphrase from the jaws of Jean-Paul Satre’s “hell is other people” certainly has some chops. If she can then deliver it as a genuinely funny laugh line amid a global Huis Clos 20 years after the collapse of human civilization, she’s no slouch.
Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven may hand her a breakthrough this year as one of our most interesting and accessible literary voices. The book is out on September 9 in the States, and on the 10th in the UK.
In no more than a chapter, Mandel drives you from the comfortable tragedy of an actor’s death in mid-Lear to the macro-overwhelm of near-extinction. With whiplash speed, she drops you off deep in the spacious terror of what Richard Nash reminds us is Annalee Newitz’s instruction to the doomed: scatter, adapt, and remember.
From Station Eleven’s Chapter 6, “An Incomplete List”:
No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
Mandel needs no asteroid, no alien invasion, no ray guns. All she needs is to land the fabulously fatal Georgia flu at Toronto Pearson International. Mandel’s storytelling resonates with a range of interlocking references, a vibrato so unforced that you’ll find yourself stopping to do a double-take at shimmering, apt parallels.
Here are her latter-day troubadours, the Traveling Symphony (they of the hellish flutes) on a disintegrating highway of hope. They perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Then I must be thy lady.” Lines of a play written in 1594, the year London’s theaters reopened after two seasons of plague. Or written possibly a year later, in 1595, a year before the death of Shakespeare’s only son. Some centuries later on a distant continent, Kirsten moves across the stage in a cloud of painted fabric, half in rage, half in love.
Travel — both longed for and accomplished, over time and across a wasteland — is everywhere in this audacious, unsettling work. Station Eleven is the arrival of a significant, contemporary perspective in which the importance of small values redraws the big picture. And if you think you don’t like literary fiction, this is the one to try.
By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
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Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com