Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Books – Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

So every now and then I read a book that is so utterly brilliant I want to stand on tall buildings and shout loudly at people that they should read it. This is one of this times.

Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian novel, Station Eleven, was published last year to great success and acclaim. The book opens during a production King Lear. Hollywood actor Arthur Leander dies on stage, while a child actress watches from the wings. That night, a deadly virus spreads through North America and the rest of the world, and the majority of the human population is wiped out within weeks. Technology and governments subside, communities break down, civilisation collapses. The book then oscillates between the worlds before and after civilisation, between the lives of Arthur Leander and the people he knew, and the aftermath of the epidemic. Two decades after civilisation breaks down, we follow Kirstin, the children actress, now twenty-six years old and living with the Travelling Symphony, a theatre company who tour the leftover communicates, preforming Shakespeare plays – ‘because survival is insufficient.’

So, Shakespeare in the face of the end of the world. I had high expectations and I was not disappointed.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Books – The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett

Laura Barnett’s debut novel, The Versions of Us, was published two months ago, and is an interesting, touching, beautiful book. It revolves around three different alternate stories, three different possible lives of its protagonists. So in Cambridge in 1958, a young student named Eva Edelstein gets a puncture in her bike, and meets Jim Taylor when he stops to offer her help. Or alternatively, in Cambridge in 1958, a young student named Eva Edelstein swerves to avoid a dog while on her bike, and cycles past by a young man who looks vaguely familiar. Or alternatively, in Cambridge in 1958, a young student named Eva Edelstein falls off her bike, and meets Jim Taylor when he stops to ask if she’s alright.

Each version is different, and we follow three alternative lives of Jim and Eva, through decades of career dreams, marital problems, children, love, death and deceit and pretty much everything you could want in a novel. The concept really appealed to me. I love the idea of possible futures diverging from one moment, of exploring what might have been, and how one small insignificant detail – a nail in a road, for example – can change someone’s entire life.