Special to The Record
The fourth novel by a Comox Valley native has changed her life in ways the first three did not.
Now living in New York City, Emily St. John Mandel has received rave reviews for Station Eleven, which has made the New York Times bestseller list, and was shortlisted for the 2014 National Book Awards.
“This book has completely changed my career,” Mandel reveals in an email interview. “The reception has been incredible, especially in the United States and in the U.K., and I feel tremendously grateful.
“Being nominated for a National Book Award was an extraordinary experience,” adds Mandel, whose first three novels released by small publishers created some buzz, but nothing compared to her latest.
Increased travel is one byproduct of Station Eleven, a dystopian novel set in the near future of a world ravaged by a pandemic that destroys infrastructure and social structure alike.
“Practically speaking, I travel a great deal now, which is often wonderful and sometimes difficult. I had a six-week, 21-city tour for the hardcover, and I’m going out on the road again soon in the U.K. and U.S. for the paperback.
“There are so many festivals and speaking engagements scheduled over the next year that I’ve started booking events in 2016. It’s all still a bit surreal.
“The ostensible purpose of these visits is to sell as many books as possible, and there’s always a lot of hard work, but it’s also fun.”
She says she didn’t intend her latest book to be a warning about the future.
“I’d say the virus stems not from the current reality on Earth, per se, but from our history as a species. The history of humanity is a history of repeated brushes with pandemic disease. It’s a dark topic, obviously, but on the other hand, as a species we’ve always managed to survive.”
Mandel lived in Merville until she was seven before a brief stint in Comox and then on Denman Island for eight years. She left at 18 to study contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.
Elements from her life show up in Station Eleven, she says.
“One of the characters, Miranda, is doing creative work on the side while she works at a boring office job, which is a situation that I’m extremely familiar with.
“Two of the book’s characters are from a very lightly fictionalized version of Denman Island. Other characters spend time in Toronto, where I went to school.
“The book has a terrible dinner party in Los Angeles, featuring dialogue that I lifted verbatim from a terrible dinner party in New York.”
What’s it like to live in New York City?
“Day to day, it’s probably not much different from living in any large city, except that you don’t need a car. You commute to work on the subway, you work hard for long hours, you pick up groceries on your way home and cook dinner, you spend time with your loved ones in the evenings.
“There’s a culture of working very hard here, which is invigorating so long as you love your work.”
Former Comox Valley Record arts writer Paula Wild is one of the book’s many fans.
“This is one of those pick-it-up-and-can’t-put-it-down books. Station Eleven is engaging, compelling and eerily plausible,” Wild writes on her blog that can be accessed at paulawild.ca
Mark Allan is a freelance writer and a former editor of the Comox Valley Record