Day one: The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the Earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.
Week Two: Civilization has crumbled.
Year Twenty: A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. But now a new danger looms, and it threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.
This book might have slipped past your radar back in 2014, especially if you’re not a regular adult fiction reader. It completely slipped past mine, but after reading some great review and watching some booktube videos I decided to give this one a try.
Now I understand why some people might be hesitant to pick up a novel like this, the post-apocalyptic storyline has been overdone recently and novels like this tend to all feel the same both in storyline and characters (especially in YA novels). But that’s exactly why you should read this book. Emily St John Mandel does an amazing job of bringing freshness to this tired theme. Not once while reading did I feel like I’d encountered something like this before.
The true point of difference is the element of time. Told through multiple time periods and from multiple points of view this story gives the reader everything about the event including the precursors and the predecessors. Often my critique with this type of story is the limited single person perspective, it only offers a single viewpoint of the event and often doesn’t give any real indication of why something like this could happen. Emily’s multiple characters offer real exploration into this mass genocide event, including how the disease spread, how people tried to cope and what happens after nearly all of humanity is gone.
The intertwining of these characters lives with each other is delicate and makes the reader realise how connected you are with everyone around you, from the person you pass by on the street to the people you see everyday. The real trick Emily used was making one central character the linking factor for the rest of the cast, often moving fluidly between different peoples point of view to explain to the reader how interconnected these people are. Not only is this a clever plot device to give the story a wider scope, it’s also a tool used to drop clues to the reader about who the potential threats are to the surviving characters. While the majority of the story does focus on characters own personal stories and past events, there is a forward moving plot line following one character that’s gripping and leaves you hungrily tearing through chapters waiting for the next time they speak.
Most importantly though, it spoke to me about the resilience of humanity. How when even faced with unthinkable circumstances people will still push on. People will still try. Especially in a time when something like virus sweeping the world isn’t such a far out thought, it was an encouraging read that reinforced to me that maybe humanity could be okay.
This is the kind of book that left me thinking about nothing else for days, constantly I was overcome with the thought, how would I survive? What would I do in this situation? It didn’t help that when I was reading this novel I was down the South Australian coast, spending a weekend away, surrounded by vast open landscape. It inspired and stimulated me into writing a little piece of my own, and that how I knew this was a book worth talking about. When you find something that pushes you to act, you’ve got something pretty special in your hands.
If you’re and avid YA reader looking for a challenging read, with carefully and eloquently constructed prose, that grips you and leaves you feeling in time with the characters, this is the book for you. It’s not a typical YA read, but it’s not the kind of adult book that pushes away younger readers, why not give it a try?
5 stars out of 5