The Hunchback of Notre-Dame–Victor Hugo
A novel has serious problems if its only appealing character is a goat.
Station Eleven–Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is about a flu pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. The book begins with the famous actor Arthur Leander having a heart attack onstage during a performance of King Lear. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches while Jeevan Chaudhary jumps onstage and tries to save the actor’s life with CPR. The flu hits shortly after. Although the book features a large supporting cast, the author primarily uses these three main characters to tell us the story of what happens before, during, and after the spread of this devastating flu strain.
The time before the flu is mostly told through the Arthur character. We learn about his three ex-wives, his son, and follow his career from struggling acting student to his final stage performance. Although we learn some of Jeevan’s history, he is the character who primarily appears during the flu outbreak and its immediate aftermath. His storyline was my favorite. When it comes to apocalyptic novels, I usually prefer the parts that take place during the shitstorm. And finally, Kirsten is the character we follow through the years after the outbreak. She grows up on the road and settles in with the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who roam the nearly empty countryside putting on performances of Shakespeare’s plays.
The book jumps back and forth between storylines and time (but not so much for the Library of Congress “Time travel–Fiction” designation to make any sense at all) and we begin to see how the many characters are connected. There’s a lot going on, but I guess the main storyline concerns the Traveling Symphony and what happens when they show up at a previously friendly settlement and find that it’s been taken over by a weirdo self-proclaimed prophet. In addition, the symphony members who were supposed to be waiting for them in the town are nowhere to be seen. Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony head off in search of their friends, but they probably haven’t seen the last of that weirdo self-proclaimed prophet fella.
Station Eleven was my favorite book of the month. I thought there were maybe too many characters for a 330 page book and that the prophet seemed more like a minor nuisance than a proper villain, but I didn’t have any other complaints. I thought Jeevan’s scenes in Toronto were particularly well-written. His trip to the grocery store was harrowing and had me on edge. I also enjoyed the scenes at the airport in the days immediately following the outbreak. I’m not sure I can think of anybody I’d recommend this book to, but I thought it was a worthwhile read.
My second post-apocalyptic novel in a row was Mort(e) by Robert Repino. I bought this book based solely on Kapo Ng and Sam Chung’s striking cover work. I walked into Joseph-Beth Booksellers, saw an orange and white cat staring at me from the New Arrivals table, and went straight for it. I knew I was buying the book even before I flipped it over to read the synopsis.
After hundreds of years of planning, a race of sentient ants rises up and starts a war with humanity. Fighting on the side of the ants are other animals who have been altered by their exposure to an ant hormone. These animals increase in size, begin walking on two legs, develop the ability to speak, and become capable of higher thought. The first thing they do, of course, is start killing humans. This sudden uprising takes humanity by surprise, and it’s not long before the animals have the upper-hand. The dwindling human population continues to fight back, and have some success with a mysterious bio-weapon known as EMSAH.
One of the heroes of this animal uprising is Mort(e), a de-clawed house cat formerly known as Sebastian. He doesn’t care much for the ants or their goal of eradicating humanity, but he’s more than willing to kill humans if it helps him work towards his secret goal of tracking down his best friend, a dog named Sheba who used to live next door. Mort(e) joins an elite squad, rises in the ranks, and is eventually assigned to investigate EMSAH. It’s around this time that he receives a message from the humans suggesting that Sheba is still alive!
The book is pretty good (and a lot of fun) up until page 230. That’s when Mort(e) learns the truth about humanity’s secret bio-weapon. The truth about EMSAH is so ridiculous that I was in a perpetual state of scoffing for the remaining 125 pages. I was sincerely disappointed. I finished the book, of course. Here’s what I remember about the end: dirigibles, a hokey prophet subplot (again with the prophets), some hymn singing, and a final action sequence between the ants and the forces of humanity that was choreographed with all the elegance of a battle scene from a G.I. Joe cartoon. I can’t even remember if Mort(e) eventually found Sheba. Probably.
The Go-Betweens Anthology, Volume 1: 1978-1984–Robert Forster & others
I debated if I should include this as it’s really just something that came with the G Stands For Go-Betweens music box set I recently purchased. It took me well over an hour to read, so I decided that’s enough reason to count it as a book instead of just liner notes. There are a lot of great stories about the band’s history and some amazing pictures inside. My favorite bits were Grant McLennan’s acceptance postcard (as seen on the cover) and the story of the Lee Remick record on the wall at Rough Trade. Also, Lindy Morrison sounds like an interesting character; I’d like to read more about her.
(books for february)
I’m currently reading a novel by Vladimir Pištalo called Tesla: A Portrait With Masks. The book is taking me a long time as the chapters are very short and I keep putting it down when I get to the end of one.