My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Defining science fiction is complicated (see BBC piece if you doubt this), but I think applying that label to this novel is a mistake. It is set in the future after a flu pandemic has wiped out most of the world, but it is mostly telling the story of people in our time who are leading their lives and making connections with other people in a very every-day way. The power of this story is in its ability to depict the important role other people play in our lives. The importance of place in making us who we are is also a recurring idea in the story.
"'You know where I'm from," he said, and she understood what he meant by this. Once we lived on an island in the ocean. Once we took the ferry to go to high school, and at night the sky was brilliant in the absence of all these city lights. Once we paddled canoes to the lighthouse to look at petroglyphs and fished for salmon and walked through deep forests, but all of this was completely unremarkable because everyone else we knew did these things too, and here in these lives we've built for ourselves, here in these hard and glittering cities, none of this would seem real if it weren't for you." (p. 207)I was struck by how true this insight is that someone else knowing where you come from makes it real. I feel that way about the "hard and glittering" city I grew up in which is the one this character is talking about.
The structure of this novel is also perfect for the story. The action moves among many people (3rd person omniscient narrator) and back and forth through time, but it was never confusing and it gave a nice "unfolding" quality to the story of the flu pandemic and the characters' interconnections.
Mandel was born in British Columbia and has written several previous novels. This is an amazing book and I look forward to reading more of her work. This book counts toward the Canadian Book Challenge.