The Curiosity of Engagement
I am almost one hundred and fifty pages away from the end of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Up to this point, I have fitted my reading of this novel in between traveling, other books, meetings, and editing, but always surprising myself at how easy it has been to slip right back into the story, notwithstanding the difficulty of name recognition between time lapses. But something has changed. I am reading more slowly now, not because of the pacing of the telling and not because the narrative leaps forward and backward, but because of the writing itself.
Readers latch onto and then into novels at singular times. I recently described my reading of Courtney Collins’s The Untold as “falling into a novel” almost within the first paragraph. Not so with Station Eleven, and I think it had nothing to do with its apocalyptic format (not my genre of choice). As much as I found it easy to put down, I found it just as easy to pick back up, even with a week or more between reads. The story, with its core centered on the arts, specifically stage and film, and its cast of extremely vulnerable and likeable characters, was as attractive to me as its genre was not. I can’t even say that plot won out, only because I’m not sure of the plot beyond the necessity of survival. Maybe the story has moved for me beyond the genre of apocalyptic writing to simply writing.
Whatever the reason, there I was, slowly reaching for those skinny Post Its and beginning to slap them down, line after line, indicating not only what was written, but how it was written, each one like a literary pot hole forcing me to stop and take a minute to rub my literary ankle. And I say “me” because it’s clear by now that my involvement in this novel has become very personal. It also wouldn’t surprise me to hear other readers shouting out, Well, about time! I’ve read other novels that include Toronto as a place of interest, but not until now, when the city represents a location of arrival and departure, has it brought me to tears. That’s exactly the point of this blog, the curiosity of engagement. The more personally involved I became in the writing, the ability to remember and then to mourn what cannot be remembered, the more often I would turn to the back of the book to look at the author picture of Mandel, an elfin, almost Audrey Hepburn-looking young woman, and wonder how the hell could she know what she knows to have written what she’s written? Lucky? Gifted? Well, duh, of course gifted. And maybe her youth is as much an asset to seeing life with such innocent intensity and possibility as is my age to recognize that life as my own past and its future my reality. Good luck to us both.
Hopefully I can finish Station Eleven before I go back to traveling and find the words to write the kind of review this book deserves before it comes out in September. – Sunny Solomon