Every book I read provides an opportunity to learn: how to present engaging characters, create a can’t-put-down plot, trick readers with an unreliable narrator and so one. The one that has captured me lately is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which demonstrates mastery of the art of time.
The story is intriguing: a flu epidemic wipes out nearly all humans, and the few remaining struggle within the new state of the world, not only to survive, but to connect and move forward. “Because,” as they say, “survival is insufficient.”
I liked the characters. I was interested by the premise. I loved the importance of the fictional graphic novel. But what really pulled it together was the seemingly haphazard presentation of time. As these people piece together their own histories, we piece together the various stories too. We gradually see the connections, gradually get to know the people by who they were in the past. If the novel had flowed in chronological order, the magic would have been lost.
During an undergrad fiction writing course at the University of Victoria, we studied First Blood by David Morrell (the first book of the Rambo series) as an ideal example of a story that starts at the beginning, moves forward chronologically and never looks back. Station Eleven is the other extreme.
My discovery of this book comes at an ideal time; I usually work rather chronologically, with the odd flashback, but the novel I’m currently working on could definitely benefit from some of this skipping back and forth. I look forward to seeing how I can implement Mandel’s techniques.