In Toronto, child actress Kirsten Raymonde watches on in shock as Hollywood actor Arthur Leander dies on stage in front of her from a heart attack. Only one audience member, Jeevan Choudury, attempts first aid, and is unsuccessful. These events should be tabloid news within the next day but by the next day most people from the audience are dead. By the end of the fortnight, 99% of the world’s population has been wiped out in a deadly pandemic that sweeps across continents.
Only a few survive, among them Kirsten and Jeevan, and those that are left face a bleak existence, alone, fighting for survival. Kirsten becomes part of a travelling Symphony, touring and performing a range of Shakespeare plays to settlements of survivors. However, not every settlement is as safe as it may at first appear.
The story weaves between Year 15, Year 20 and flashbacks from the outbreak and before the pandemic, following the connections of a range of characters to the actor who died onstage. Mandel crafts the story well and as readers we are followed by a sense of threat and danger throughout the story – from the panic of the flu outbreak to the sinister Prophet and his followers.
I absolutely loved this story, it evokes a lot of empathy, as well as really making the reader consider how fragile many everyday things that we base our lives on are: electricity, antibiotics the Internet, social media, travel. My only criticism would be that I wanted more: more information about how Kirsten survived; more detail about the Prophet; what happens next at the end of the novel?
Although (dare I hope?) maybe it is wide open for a sequel…