Station Eleven, Emily St.John Mandel


‘Hell is the absence of the people you long for.’

Station Eleven is at once devastatingly tragic and surprisingly hopeful. I already know that I’ll think about this book for a long time, and come back to again and again.

The post-apocalyptic novel revolves largely around the life and relations of Arthur Leander, the actor whose sudden on-stage death is the first chapter, preparing us for the speed and ruthlessness of the flu-epidemic that is to follow.

Every single character in this book is meticulously thought through, well-rounded, and entirely believable and engrossing. Finishing this was hard because I didn’t want to leave their lives behind. I can only hope for a sequel, although I’m not sure if it actually needs one (except to satisfy my own desires).

As well as discovering the links between all the characters and Leander, the plot of the novel follows the Travelling Symphony, a nomadic group of musicians and actors, whose existence in this post-epidemic world is to entertain, educate and keep culture and The Arts alive. ‘Survival‘, to the Travelling Symphony, ‘is insufficient’.

Shakespeare, science-fiction graphic novels, affairs, love and death, alongside some of the best and most evocative writing I have ever come across make this book a definite five out of five stars for me.

This has quickly become my new favourite book and I will recommend it to anyone. I’m definitely going to be reading the author’s other novels, and keeping my eyes peeled for anything new from Emily St.John Mandel.

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Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

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Maud can’t remember the last time she saw Elizabeth. She doesn’t know why she has dirt under her fingernails or how she got to the bandstand in the park. But she knows that Elizabeth is missing. She knows that. The note in her pocket tells her so.

This book is an interesting look into the mind of an elderly lady with (assumed) dementia, who’s desperately trying to remember what she knows she needs to remember.

Following in the footsteps of many contemporary novels, it to-and-fros between past and present time, concentrating on twin mysteries – the disappearances of her sister and of Elizabeth. As the novel goes on, the two begin to merge, both in plot and in Maud’s confused mind.

It’s touching and sad and well-written, but I’m afraid it’s yet another book for me, in terms of plot and character, which didn’t live up to the hype that surrounded it.

It’s probably to do with the fact that Maud is, understandably, such an unreliable narrator. However, I don’t think that this is a good enough excuse for there to still be unanswered questions at the end of the novel.

I found myself much more engaged with the postwar story line which followed a young Maud and the suspicious disappearance of her older sister, Sukey. I felt thoroughly emerged in Healey’s 1940s London, and since the narrator is a lot more reliable in these sections, I felt a more solid attachment to the plot and a more emotive relationship to the characters.

If the feeling of loss and misunderstanding around the present day story of Maud and Elizabeth is intentionally meant to reflect the confusion and chaos in the mind of the protagonist, then Healey has done a thorough and good job.

If you like intentionally unreliable narrators and literary fiction then this is the book for you.

Nocturnal Animals, Austin Wright

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Love. Death. Retribution.

Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield divorced fifteen years ago. Now a house-wife and mother in Chicago, married to Doctor Arnold Morrow, she one day receives a letter and a manuscript from her ex-husband, asking would she like to read his first book?

A compulsive worrier, Susan assumes that Edward’s getting back in touch means that there will be some hidden meaning in his story: “a new twist in their dead romance”. She’s surprised, intrigued and hesitant, but finally sits down to read the manuscript over a three day period.

The manuscript, Nocturnal Animals, is a thriller which follows Tony Hastings’ journey after a highway ambush, and the kidnapping of his wife and daughter.

Susan reads, as we all do, with the hope of taking herself out of and away from her own reality, so she’s unpleasantly surprised to find more of herself in this novel than she would have liked.

 

I really enjoyed most of this book and appreciated Wright’s consideration of the interconnection between real and invented worlds, and the relationship between the reader and the writer.

However, I wouldn’t call the book a thriller.

It didn’t have the expected or anticipated twist that a thriller needs. Even in the manuscript, I was waiting for something to happen. Some big twist that makes you throw your hands to your mouth and shout “OH!” in shock and realisation.

But, I don’t think that this is the author’s fault.

My expectations were founded on the way the book has been recently advertised. For me, it’s definitely more literary fiction, focused on Susan’s compulsion to read and her fear of reading, and this is the part that, in my opinion, is done really well.

The conceit at the heart of this book is intellectual and stimulating: reading the book alongside Susan, even if she is neurotic and passive, means that our reactions are her reactions, our thoughts are her thoughts. We are the reader.

It’s also a book about revenge. The manuscript itself seems enveloped in it, as well as the strange relationship between Edward and Susan. However, I think that their relationship was left unexplored and the focus on the eventually pretty average novel that Edward wrote, meant that their complicated past (and indeed complicated present) was unfortunately left behind, to the detriment of this novel.

Overall, although I felt slightly disappointed when I had finished this book (because it was missing the cheap thrill I expected), I really enjoyed reading it. It’s given me a lot to think about, which can only be a good thing, in my opinion.

 

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with Pixie Lott

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Image credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Something very exciting happened! One of my all time favourite films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is now also a play, and I got to go and see it at The Lowry last Tuesday.

The play is actually adapted from the Truman Capote novella, rather than the 1961 Audrey Hepburn classic. And so Holly Golightly (Pixie Lott) is played as a grittier, less saccharine character than we’re used to, resonating more with Capote’s original country-turned-New-York-party-girl. Tim Auld of The Telegraph described Lott’s performance as “less slinky cat, more frisky kitten”.

The curtain lifted to reveal Holly standing in front of Tiffany’s window – an adaptation of the iconic Hepburn image – singing a teaser of Moon River in a thunder storm. The staging continued in this simple, pacy and effective way, with settings and props emerging almost effortlessly from both sides of the stage and from above.

Naturally, there were many costume changes, all classic 1940s and as elegant as we’ve come to expect from the vivacious Holly Golightly. Set and costume designer Matthew Wright did a fantastic job encapsulating the mood and style of the era.

‘Fred’ (Matt Barber) lives in the apartment above Holly in a typical New York Brownstone, and they quickly become friends after her insistent ringing of his bell at one, two and three in the morning. Barber also narrates the story, taking the audience along with him as his fascination with Holly intensifies.

Holiday ‘Holly’ Golightly leads an “American geisha” lifestyle, surrounded by the wealthiest men she can find, whilst hiding a mysterious and sad backstory, and she refuses to let ‘Fred’ tame her. “Never love a wild thing”, she shouts. “You can’t give your heart to a wild thing.”

Described as a play with songs, Pixie Lott sings three beautiful numbers, Moon River, of course, being one of them. Her raspy and captivating voice lends itself to the hidden country girl inside of her and strengthens the emotion of her performance.

The entire production is intense, surprising and touching, and Pixie Lott plays a passionate, highly memorably Holly Golightly, a character we all know and love: reinvented.