Archive for the ‘apocalypse’ Tag

Survival Modes   4 comments


I’m usually not drawn to apocalyptic novels, but Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is so much more than a foreboding tale about a small group of people who  survive a pandemic. It’s also about getting through the trials of what we might consider the normal elements of life: existence before the disaster.  She blends the backstory of the half dozen characters she masterfully introduces with their lives following the devastation; and it works!

The story follows the characters whose lives shared parallel paths with Arthur Leander, a famous actor, and which orbit around the fall of society. Unrelated to the flu that kills most of the world’s population, Arthur dies of a heart attack.  Nonetheless, he remains a substantial character as viewed by those who knew him: one of his ex-wives, his best friend, a young girl who watches him die and the man who tries to save him. Another ex-wife and Arthur’s son have important, albeit tangential, roles.  Each character is connected to Arthur, although they don’t all intersect with one another.

St. John Mandel creates a bleak, but not black and white picture, which is often the case in similarly-themed novels. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind as a portrayal of a dismal post-catastrophe world. Sure, there is plenty of anarchy and death in Station Eleven, but somehow they don’t overshadow the power of friendship, love and art.

The author deftly illustrates that fear and loss exist before and after the collapse of civilization – as does hope.

Station Eleven
Five Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
352 pages

Hell In Helsinki   Leave a comment


I learned about The Healer from a link sent by a friend featuring book doppelgangers. Antti Tuomainen’s novel was identified as the literary twin to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. That’s all I needed to know – or so I thought. Unfortunately, it’s more a fraternal connection than identical.

Yes, it’s set in Scandinavia but from there the similarities are tenuous at best. The Healer is compact but can’t quite settle on a specific genre. It’s crime fiction, without the thrill of trying to determine whodunit before it’s spelled out. It’s an apocalyptic tale, without an explanation of what actually took place – except for references to global warming. It’s a love story, told only from Tapani the narrator’s perspective, which is unreliable.

Tapani recounts his frantic search for his missing wife, Johanna, a journalist working on a story about a series of murders. The couple has never gone more than a few hours without communicating with one another. Her editor is disinterested, the police are over-worked, and friends are not forthcoming. Tapani is on his own left to retrace his wife’s steps. Along the way he is befriended by a helpful yet mysterious cab driver. And, Tapani uncovers a few secrets from Johanna’s past, which make him question how well he truly knows her.

Tuomaninen’s description of Helsinki is stark; it’s a city of constant rain, poverty and crowds. None of which, like Tapani’s search for Johanna, is very engaging. Nonetheless, I found myself thinking about the ending long after finishing this terse novel.

The Healer
Three Bookmarks
Henry Holt and Co., 2010
211 pages