November 12th, 2014
The Short Take:
At first I thought this would be a rushed-through book capitaliziing on the media frenzy surrounding ebola. However, this highly thoughtful and carefully constructed novel is a genuine winner. After a virus destroys about 99 percent of the world’s population, this novel isn’t focusing on marauding hordes but examining nostalgia for a lost civilization while survivors hopefully build a new one.
I’ve read a number of post-apocalyptic novels, from King’s The Stand to Howey’s Wool (both well worth the read, by the way). However, Mandel brings something new to this well-explored theme.
Her main characters all have some degree of connection, Kevin Bacon style. They are of different ages and so have widely varying points of view about the past, present, and future. This creates a more nuanced story, in which humanity’s interactions — and their vast reduction after the disaster — are key.
The novel jumps around in time and from character to character, which I have increasingly come to find annoying. However, Mandel ‘s jumps help the story unfold almost like a mystery. The changes in time, place, and character make storytelling sense. They add to the book’s success.
Ultimately, the more I read, the more enchanted I became. There are just so many thoughtful moments. For example, an older man contemplates a souvenir snow globe, thinking of all the people, factories, transportation, etc. involved in its making and reaching the airport he now lives in. Writing like that makes you think, too.
Our civilized connections are myriad and fragile. That is what this book recognizes, mourns, and celebrates.
A Little Plot:
On the day a devestatingly deadly virus arrives in Toronto by plane, a famous actor dies of a heart attack while playing King Lear. Twenty years later, a child in that play (it was an unusual production) is part of a traveling troupe of musicians and actors, performing Shakespeare plays and classical symphonies for small communities in the Great Lakes region.
It’s risky to travel, though violence has gotten rarer (ammunition is scarce after 20 years). But they continue because “Survival is Insufficient,” as their lead, horse-drawn vehicle proclaims — a line borrowed from Star Trek. It’s a fitting line for a novel that makes you cherish what you have and could lose at any time.
To visit Mande;’s website, click here.