“My point is, there’s always something. I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story. It’s a kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we’re uniquely important, that we’re living at the end of history, that now, after all these millennia of false alarms, now is finally the worst that it’s ever been, that finally we have reached the end of the world.”
It’s 1912, Edwin St. Andrew is exiled from polite society by his parents after ranting about colonialism at the dinner table and finds himself in Canada. He enters the forest one night to admire the Canadian wilderness and is shocked to see a sudden vision of a man playing a violin in an airship terminal. 200 years later, Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour on earth from the outer space colonies when she is asked about a strange passage in her best selling book. A passage that describes a man playing a violin in an airship terminal when suddenly the Canadian wilderness rises behind him for a couple of seconds. When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is hired to investigate this anomaly and determine if we are living in a simulation, he travels through time to meet each participant to interview them and finds so many different lives upended.
“You know the phrase I keep thinking about?” a poet asked, on a different panel, at a festival in Copenhagen. ‘The chickens are coming home to roost.’ Because it’s never good chickens. It’s never ‘You’ve been a good person and now your chickens are coming home to roost.’ It’s never good chickens. It’s always bad chickens.”
I genuinely do not know how to describe this book to you because I went in blind. I saw that Mandel had a new book out and I just downloaded it and read it without even checking to see what it was about. I recommend you go in that way because there is really no description for this book. It’s so many things at once. It is a pandemic novel, a time travelling novel, an apocalyptic novel, a human nature novel etc. I did not enjoy Mandel’s last novel, The Glass Hotel, as much as I did Station Eleven but this one is Mandel at her absolute finest. If you read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, you get to pick up the different little easter eggs she drops on the way. Characters from her previous books pop up in this one and it was so thrilling to recognise characters I thought I would never see again.
“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorienting. The pandemic is far away and then it’s all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.”
As is the style with Mandel, this is a quiet slow build story. The exploration of what living in a simulation might mean for humanity is so riveting and her writing of human nature is absolutely beautiful. We begin with different chapters of characters in different centuries and settings with stories that seem totally unrelated and you wonder where exactly this is leading to. The way she ties the stories together beautifully at the end is so good. Mandel’s writing has such a nostalgic feel to it, how do you feel nostalgic about what is essentially a time traveling investigatory story? I don’t know but you do.
“Sometimes you don’t know you’re going to throw a grenade until you’ve already pulled the pin.”
If you enjoy slow burn books, then you should give this book a chance. If you’ve never enjoyed any Emily St. John Mandel’s books then this is not any different. The reasons you hated the others probably exist in this one. It’s very difficult to write a review for this book but I definitely recommend it if it sounds like something you’d like and with every Mandel book, you already know to expect very stellar writing. I think I’ve decided to be a completist where Mandel is concerned. I’m going to go and read her previous books before Station Eleven blew up and see. Anyway, I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.