I was wondering how I was going to make a book club pick twice, as I’m not much of a joiner and my coworker book club basically meets every six months once we ask for extensions … and more extensions … and plan to get together and cancel those plans…. so no way we were going to have the next pick ready in time. And I am going to do my level best not to use the reader’s choice square, because this is a challenge for a reason. YAY CBR book club, and DOUBLE YAY that you picked a book I was already going to buy sooner or later!
This book only suffers for not being Station Eleven. Every concept that falls flat is an echo of something done well by St. John Mandel’s previous work, and everything it does well, Station Eleven did better, which is a completely unfair comparison. Except St. John Mandel leans into the comparison by echoing her last book. We have Vincent musing about what the world would be like if the Georgian Flu had been more of a widespread deadly pandemic instead of fizzling out in this world. We see cameos like Leon and Miranda from the previous book. It’s kind of a fun jolt seeing them here, but it does also highlight that the first book all were in was better.
The problem is that the various plot threads here aren’t woven quite as tightly as they were in Station Eleven, and so each section feels more disjointed. Paul’s betrayal of Vincent might have made more of an impact if we had any sense of what he was doing in the middle of the book, or if we had any idea how Vincent felt about him instead of the other way around. The middle section where Alkaitis’ employees were scrambling to deal with the impending fallout of their Ponzi scheme felt like it was ported in from another book. And I actually didn’t remember who Ella was at all, or whether we had been introduced to her prior to the end of the book (we must have been, but hell if I remember). So when it all gets tied together, it’s not quite as satisfying.
That said, St. John Mandel is an amazing writer. There’s nothing wrong with falling short of perfection, and this is still a five star book (if not one I’ll be shoving into everyone’s hands to read).