The first book chosen by Thornwell Books new Book Club #2 was a jolt to read. Set in a future when a global pandemic has killed 99% of the people in the world, it is eerily relevant to the world we are living in today. Mandel wrote "Station Eleven" in 2014 long before our current pandemic and unlike her scenario less than 1 % of the global population has perished since COVID-19 appeared. However, the "what ifs" are chilling.
The story follows the travels of The Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who travel between the small groups of people who have come together to form communities. The Symphony primarily performs of Shakespeare plays, something the post pandemic world prefers. Mandel moves back and forth in time with the central focal point an actor named Arthur Leander who dies on stage of a heart attack the day the pandemic begins. All of the main characters in the book have some link to Arthur as do many of the objects they revere in the post-apocalyptic world. Mandel examines a variety of human existential questions-what qualities are integral to human nature, what are the ingredients of civilization, what is art and where does it come form, other than sustenance, what do humans require to thrive--while never losing the narrative thread of her characters stories. This is a cautionary tale but an oddly uplifting one.