Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is another friend recommendation. I can best describe this book with the word intricate. The plot jumps around quite a bit among many characters, yet everything comes together.
The story begins the night that the pandemic illness, the Georgia Flu, begins its full outbreak. Arthur is acting the part of King Lear when he drops dead onstage (from natural causes). More about Arthur’s past is woven throughout the story: his three marriages including a son from his second marriage, his rise as an acclaimed actor and his friendships.
Arthur’s first wife, Miranda, is a graphic novelist whose sci fi work (also titled “Station Eleven”) is an anchor through the story. This work ties together a couple of key characters, and it also (somewhat) parallels the main story’s plot.
One of the key characters is Kristen, the child actress who was part of King Lear with Arthur. We follow Kristen through her time with the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians/actors who move through the post flu world. The Symphony provides entertainment to the various groups they come across, until they reach one that is a bit different than the others. It is a cult-like settlement run by the prophet. A pre-teen girl is promised as his next wife and she stows away with the Symphony when they leave. This causes the prophet and some of his followers to go after the Symphony during their travel to the Severn Airport, which they heard is a safe haven.
There are other important characters too. Clark is one of Arthur’s lifelong friends who was stranded at the Severn Airport at the start of the outbreak (along with Arthur’s second wife and son). Another is Jeevan, who ran onstage during King Lear to perform CPR on Arthur.
There is a lot to enjoy about this book. The plot’s maze of movement among different characters, times and places kept me aware and involved. It was a constant guessing game as to whether everyone would connect. I liked the Shakespeare references and the presence of the graphic novel throughout the story too. More than anything, books, movies and shows with post-apocalyptic plots make you think about how one would function in this altered reality and instill some fear. This novel is no exception.