Ugh, I’m so fucking tired of “literary” writers slumming it in genre fiction. Authors, if you’re going to attempt dystopian fiction or science fiction or fantasy, understand: the most important thing is the world-building. You HAVE to build a convincing setting that makes sense and works according to a) rules of internal logic, and b) a general understanding of the real world and human nature (important in “literary” fiction too!) This latter is especially important for dystopian fiction. The fact that your fiction is speculative does not mean you get to conveniently handwave plot points: when your shit doesn’t make sense, the reading experience is tedious at best, maddening at worst. Be like Margaret Atwood with The Handmaid’s Tale. Don’t, sadly, be like Emily St John Mandel with Station Eleven.
Golly, I don’t even know where to start to tear into this absurd vision of a dystopian future. From the highly unlikely and unchecked contagion rate of an illness with such a rapid incubation time to the utter ridiculousness of twenty years without anything but bicycle-powered electricity (I mean, really, did the dying/looting people burn down all the libraries out of spite? Before the internet, we had books that contained useful survival information, you know,) the sheer lack of basic logic was extremely off-putting. And I felt a lot of “what’s the point of you?” I didn’t care about any of these people. Okay, maybe Clark, but for most of the book, I felt I was coasting on the surface of everyone’s emotions, as much a voyeur as Jeevan in his life as a paparazzo. I did finally feel something in Kirsten’s last confrontation with the prophet, but what happened with the kid was just way too fucking convenient. This book felt less lived than displayed. And of course it ended before having to display any scientific rigor, just as things were about to get interesting.
The parallels to King Lear were interesting but really only of note to people who love the play/Shakespeare. And the layering of the narrative was only impressive if you’ve never read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or other good science-fiction. Ms Mandel writes fluidly, thank goodness, else I wouldn’t have finished this book in two days, but ugh, it was not worth my time at this point in my life.