Saturday, December 27, 2014

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)

There have only been a handful of books where I just wanted the days to end so I could continue to curl up with them.  It's been a very long time since I read one, but Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven fits the bill perfectly.  It's no fluke that it's on so many lists as one of the best books of 2014.

The novel begins as Arthur Leander, a celebrated actor, is onstage as King Lear.  He has a heart attack in the midst of performing, and Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo turned paramedic in the audience, rushes to his aid. Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress also in the show, watches in horror as Arthur dies.  The same night, a flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the population begins to spread, and the story takes on a post-apocalyptic tone.  As the years pass by, Kirsten joins the Traveling Symphony, a group dedicated to keeping the arts alive in this new world among the widespread settlements.  

The author seamlessly weaves various time periods into the narrative, from Arthur's life with his many ex-wives to Jeevan immediately following the outbreak to the way major and minor characters connect years later.  I felt immensely satisfied when I was finished; every loose end was tied up and it was lovely to see how things came full circle.  Station Eleven was a joy to read, but certainly not in the conventional way.  I may even break my rule of only reading a book once for this one.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pure (Andrew Miller)

Andrew Miller's Pure isn't about the most pleasant subject matter in the world, so if you have a weak stomach, stay away. In fact, last week we discussed it in a club at the local bookstore, and we got some pretty confused glances from the people shopping around us.

A few years before the deadly French Revolution, Jean-Baptiste Baratte is summoned to the Palace of Versailles with a strange request. He is asked by the minister to oversee the destruction of Paris's oldest cemetery, with the bones to be brought elsewhere. A motley cast of characters adds much to Baratte's story, and Miller's prose is wonderfully descriptive as he transports you to Paris during this dangerous time period.

Why the 2 rating then? I felt extremely let down by the unanswered questions (there are quite a lot). Delving into them would give away too much of the story, but there are so many subplots beyond the cemetery that leave you hanging with questions. This was not a quick read for me, and after spending so much time on it, I was left very unsatisfied.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Undertaker's Daughter (Kate Mayfield)

When I was growing up, I went to school with someone whose family was prominent in the funeral home business.  I was fascinated that my classmate lived above where death was an everyday occurrence.  Kate Mayfield's memoir, The Undertaker's Daughter, gives the reader a glimpse of what life is really like when your home is filled with so much grief.

Mayfield spends her entire childhood in the South living with death.  Her father is one of only a handful of morticians in small-town Jubilee, Kentucky during the racially tense 1960s. Her family valued silence and saw it all in their home through the many funerals that came through.  As Mayfield grows up, she becomes a rebellious teenager longing to escape the South, while her father is quietly hiding his alcoholism.

I was going to give this a solid 4 rating, but it does have an annoying tendency to meander a bit.  However, fans of the incomparable Six Feet Under TV show (like I am) will probably devour this, as it proves that truth can often be far more disturbing than fiction.