The idea to read 150 Canadian books in celebration of Canada's sesquicentennial didn't even occur to me until I was about halfway through this book. The notion itself was sparked by someone else's tweet suggesting 150 in 2017 was a nice round number, and it was one that I found both challenging and agreeable. It was only a few moments later that I remembered that this author is Canadian, and that the book on top of my to-read pile was also written by a Canadian. That would make two, I figured, what's 148 more?
I picked up Station Eleven on the recommendation of several friends - it was a title suggested to me on more than one occasion. I am not generally a reader of science fiction (I tried my hand at science-fiction when I was about twelve, bogged down in Frank Herbert and have rarely returned since) but I was intrigued by the fact that this book had both won the Asimov Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. In reality, it was a comment made by my friend Marc about this book's relationship of Shakespeare and Star Trek to religious cults that sold me, which was strange because I'm not much interested in any of those topics either. To be frank, this book offered me a lot of reasons to not like it and it is quite remarkable that I liked it as much as I did.
I almost put it away early on, at the end of the second chapter. The final sentence, in particular, hooked me and I thought "Well, it's probably not going to get better than that - may as well stop now". In truth, that happened several times throughout the novel - I'd read a scene that I thought was really great and then worry that it would get fouled up later on. This is an end-of-the-world apocalyptic novel that revolves around a small cast of characters all differently related to someone who dies on page one. Across hundreds of pages you can feel the gravitational weight pulling them all together. I enjoyed almost all of the stories singly, but had little desire at all to see them united. Several times I thought I would just let the book drop rather than see that happen. In the end, I was happy to have seen it through because while some parts played out in the manner I had anticipated, notably many did not.
I have a colleague who has told me that this is an excellent book to teach. I can certainly see that. If I were teaching an Intro to Can Lit course I might lead with this. Though much of the action takes place across the border in Michigan, Toronto plays a key role throughout and the book nestles Canada - and Canadian stardom - within a particular nexus of American culture and British literature. Canadian culture can hardly be said to exist in Station Eleven except in the self-published comic books of Miranda Campbell. That that work is presented in such an arch fashion - self-motivated, anti-commercial, personally expressive and idiosyncratic enough to define the lives of two characters who read it - may wind up being a telling omen for this blog. Station Eleven, the comic book within the novel, is all the things that certain portions of the Can Lit establishment wish Canadian writing was. I just hope that every book I pick this year has as much to offer as this one does.
One thing about Canada I learned from this book is: That Orange Julius is a Canadian company. Their ubiquity in Canadian malls is mentioned in passing as a Canada-exclusive phenomenon. I had never realized that before now.