In the world of Station Eleven, a pandemic known as the Georgia Flu, which is spread to the world via air travel, quickly wipes out 99% of the earth’s inhabitants with its lightning fast incubation period. The 1% who are immune or hole up away from civilization long enough for the sickness to die out provide an image of how interwoven we are as human beings in the face of a tragedy. Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel describes the intricacies of relationships in society through a Traveling Symphony of Shakespearean actors and pre/post-apocalyptic character observations. Station Eleven spans two decades and is seamlessly told from several different viewpoints. Although the perspective changed frequently, the story still came across perfectly. As it began to take a more definite shape, it showed how each character was intertwined, providing hope for the future preservation of humanity
Reading Station Eleven was nothing but rewarding, even though it went much differently than I’d expected. I’ve read several pieces of post-apocalyptic literature since its recent increase in popularity, but Station Eleven stands out in stark contrast to many of these. Many post-apocalyptic creations are riddled with zombies, aliens, lunatics, climate change, disease, or some form of extreme government and are packed to the brim with action. In these texts, the characters are just trying to get by, to survive, whatever the late world throws at them. Food, water, clothing, security, or “the basics” are normally scarce, and after reading a book of this nature, I usually feel the need to stock up on canned goods and bottled water.
Mandel picks up on something that so many authors miss: if our race succeeds in living through a worldwide pandemic and somehow manages to reform a sustainable society, what happens to our culture? Being the complicated creatures that we are, life is not merely about survival. Often, our survival depends on our happiness, which we all know depends on our physical and mental well-being. Mandel picks up on a difference that has been overlooked by many. At first, this difference made me dislike the book for not following the same exact structure of so much recent literature, but once I realized that it was meant to be more philosophically driven rather than action-packed, I began to enjoy it more. Although it took me about 120 pages to understand the point, I still thought the book was near-perfect. In hindsight, I wish I’d known more of what to expect before I picked it up.
Typically, action is what drives a novel’s plot – especially in a post-apocalyptic scenario. I have to give Mandel a hand, though, because even though Station Eleven wasn’t crammed with it, I walked away satisfied that enough activity had occurred. Much like the Traveling Symphony’s journey, Mandel’s approach was not high-energy. The more I reflected on her style after I completed the book, the more it made sense. How else could she go about it? Here we have a convoy of actors and musicians traveling along with what little belongings they own from town to town recreating theater for the post-apocalyptic neighboring communities. As a reader I began to enjoy the peaceful moments the caravan saw because it meant the characters remained safe.
Station Eleven paints a picture of how life and art can proceed to exist after a major sickness or war. Not only can they exist, but they can fulfill their true purposes and distract us from the ugliness of the reality we are plagued with.
Goodreads Rating: 4.02
Recommended for: Post-Apocalypse Lovers; Future Shakespearean Actors; Thoughtful Artisans