No man is an island.
Twenty years after the human race has been irreversibly damaged and nearly erased by the "Georgia flu", Emily St. John Mandel's characters try to find purpose as they construct a new life. (Because survival is insufficient. --Star Trek)
What would you miss from the "old world"? Would you feel lucky to have made it through?
As we find ourselves at the beginning of this season of darkness, join us as we discuss Station Eleven, a novel that begins in the dead of winter.
Details, with discussion questions below. (Confession: I read most of the book while sitting on a cabana on a beach in Florida using hotel stationery to jot down discussion questions. I might have had time to get a little carried away.)
Drop a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. What would you miss from the "old world"?
2. Would you feel lucky to have made it through?
3. Would you side with the Undersea (yearning for home) or with Dr. Eleven?
4. Why the number "eleven"?
5. Is there a character you identify with more than others?
6. What did/do you imagine missing/absent in a new world?
7. What do you make of her use of dreams? (Dieter's dream, Kirsten's dream, Captain Lonagan's death "like waking up from a dream" p330) And how do they compare to the idea Kirsten and August toss around of parallel universes?
8. Sawed-off shotguns? Really? Is this the wild west? (I had to look this up -- sawing off the shotgun makes it easier to conceal and makes the bullet travel faster, making it more lethal.)
9. "Jeevan was crushed by a sudden certainty that this was it, that this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life." (p20) -- Is there a line like that in your life? Is Toronto Arthur's line?
10. What do you make of the format? The dividing into nine sections? (1. The Theater / 2. A Midsummer Night's Dream / 3. I Prefer You With a Crown / 4. The Starship / 5. Toronto / 6. The Airplanes / 7. The Terminal / 8. The Prophet / 9. Station Eleven)
11. Arthur...Kirsten...Jeevan... Her main characters have no strong personal connections. Does that make the loss of the world easier or harder to mourn?
12. Have you read The Age of Miracles? How does it compare? I.e., slow decline vs. sudden; and what is mentioned as "the last" like grapes vs. the Internet.
13. Where are all the animals? Startlingly little description of nature -- plants and wild animals -- after so much focus on the snow. Then we are thrust into the heat of summer. How does nature respond to the Georgia flu?
14. Why board up unused convenience stores? Where do the boards and hammers and nails come from?
15. Which details do you believe? Which are inconceivable? What's missing?
16. Acting/playing music gives the participants a place in this new world. How else do people construct a new sense of place?
17. Why so much flashback/time on Arthur at both the beginning and end when we know he died?
18. What do you make of her writing style?
19. What do you make of the theme of islands? (Delano Island, Station Eleven, the characters pre- and post-flu, the settlements of people post-flu)
20. What do you make of her sense of time, interweaving past, present and hopeful future?
21. What depth is there to themes of Shakespeare (The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear) and Star Trek?
22. What does Miranda mean when she says "I regret nothing"? Why does she need to explain herself at all?
23. What to make of themes of glass and storms and water? (Glass city of Toronto; glass paperweight; snow storm at start; water that separates and provides hope via shipping freighters)
24. What do we make of Arthur's childhood "friend" Victoria? Was she the one who got away or the first one he screwed over?
25. What about the theme of time itself as water that creates islands/separations? ("thinking about the terrible gulf of years between eighteen and fifty", p112)
26. How does the story of the Georgia flu parallel that of Station Eleven? (i.e. the flu came on an airplane, like the alien invasion of Station Eleven)
27. When did you suspect the prophet's identity?
28. How does the book's opening act set the tone? (1st sentence of the book talks about water: "a pool of blue light" on the stage; here is a king; afterward: a fallen kingdom)
29. What drives you to pick a career? (Jeevan bounces around; Arthur switches as does Miranda; Elizabeth wants history; Clark feels like a sleepwalker; yet, Kirsten always wanted to act. Seems like a childish theme that dances around characters finding purpose.)
30. What do you make of theme of hideaways/hideouts? (Arthur & V with their forts in the woods; Jeevan and Frank with their treehouse where they read comics; Kirsten using the woods to survive)
31. With all of the many plot lines, what holds this book together and provides continuity?
32. Why the extremes of winter snow and summer heat? What role does weather play?
33. What do you make of the juxtaposition of nature vs. city life? Darkness vs. light?
34. What about these ships off of Malaysia? Are they supernatural as Miranda wonders ("it still seemed to her...that there was something otherworldly in the sight" p218)? Will they survive and make their way around the world as Clark hopes and imagines?
35. What drives this book?
36. Why call it Station Eleven?
37. Are we all part of a plan? Or is Elizabeth Colton's character a cop out for a contrived book?
38. What to make of Arthur? As enigmatic as Propero in the Tempest...or as broken and old as Lear dividing his kingdom? Clark says he's kind but I don't like him at all!
39. What do you make of the pace of the book?
40. What plague stories come to mind when reading this book?
41. What does this book say about social media as a news source? ("the Georgia flu had seemed quite distant, especially if one happened not to be on social media" p233.)
42. Which character's response to the flu describes you?
43. How did you imagine the ending?
44. Thinking of the lack of government...lawlessness...what happened to everyone in prisons?
45. Kirsten talks about how she stopped trying to remember that first year on the road (p295 and elsewhere). Do we have that much control over memory? Isn't it the awful stuff that sticks anyway?
46. Who was the conductor??? (I really wanted it to be Miranda...but of course that would make no sense!)
47. What would you put in the Museum of Civilization?
Thank you so much for coming out to discuss Station Eleven, a book that prompted "many musings" (thanks again for the rec, Abby!) and many questions (yes, that would be me!). Corinne asked me which question I was most interested in discussing. I guess I am still burning to know the conductor's story. But my strongest musing throughout the book is this:
I found it hopeful and beautiful that what draws us into the book is the personal lives of the characters. Clark preserves the New York Times in the Museum of Civilization, largely to preserve the obituary of his friend Arthur and let his memory live on. Clark mourns those lost whose stories we will never know. Yes, some characters perform Shakespeare and carry over ideas from the "old world", but they are interested also in writing their own stories. And we as readers are left wanting them to do so.
In the spirit of that desire for personal connection, we are assigning light (shorter) reading for December. Join us as we discuss James McBride's short story "The Christmas Dance" from his new collection called Five-Carat Soul, which also continues our theme of exploring racism. The discussion will be at my house, so really this is all a cover for a social night. Please come hang out with us even if you don't get a chance to read, especially if we haven't seen you in awhile.
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.