Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
What It’s About: (via Amazon)
What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.
One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.
Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.
If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?
This is a pretty fantastic book within my beloved post-apocalyptic genre. I don’t know why I’m obsessed with this genre… But, anyway – I’ll probably compare this to The End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J Walker since I read this just after that one. Running Club focuses on one main character & his family immediately after the world is pretty much annihilated by asteroids while this one follows several different characters twenty years after most of humanity was wiped out by the “Georgia Flu” as well as showing us some characters in flashbacks before the pandemic. I’d say I liked both of these books equally but Station Eleven is definitely the “better” one of the two. I believe it won an award (Yep – I just looked it up. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, which is “a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year“). This one feels like, I dunno… Proper literature! What I mean is that I could see Station Eleven being read in schools while Running Club is more mainstream fiction. Did I somehow manage to just insult both books in that sentence??? 😉 I didn’t mean to in any way – I really liked & recommend both books but they have quite different styles.
Station Eleven is very unique in the way the characters are connected, both past & present. Kirsten, an actress in a group of performers who travel the country to entertain people after society has collapsed, is obsessed with gathering information on a famous actor she worked with in a Shakespeare play as a child & who died before her eyes on the stage. That same night is when the Georgia Flu pandemic took hold & we slowly learn how Kirsten has come to be with this travelling group of actors & musicians twenty years later. There are very few survivors left after the pandemic and no electricity, medicine, etc. Travelling can be very dangerous but this group wishes to keep the arts alive.
Two of the only things Kirsten has left from the pre-pandemic world and her most prized possessions are the first two issues of a comic book called Dr. Eleven. The parts of the book that detail this comic book and its author plus the comic book’s story set on a space station called Station Eleven are my absolute favorite parts of this novel. It’s through this comic book that, unbeknownst to Kirsten & several other main characters, they’re all linked.
I’ve not given it a lot of thought but I suppose this book is making a comment on how humanity is all connected, even without the current modern technology that makes staying connected so much easier (Skype, air travel, etc – all these things no longer exist in this book). Also, it shows that we long for this connection and there are attempts to rebuild things in the book (the publishing of a newspaper given out to travellers and the way the symphony continues to travel & perform despite the danger). There are also the obvious parallels between this post-apocalyptic Earth and the hostile space station that Dr. Eleven finds himself on in the novel’s comic book.
I’ve not read another Emily St. John Mandel book but she’s written a fantastic novel here and the way in which she weaves these characters’ lives together was truly unique. This was quite different from other books I’ve read & is well worth a read no matter what sort of genre you like. I have to say that this book, based on its writing & originality, deserves a slightly higher rating than I’m giving it. The only slight downside for me was that I didn’t buy into the characters as much as I’d have liked. I can’t explain why, however… But for whatever reason, I cared more about the characters in The End Of The World Running Club. Like I also said with that one, however, this would make for an absolutely brilliant film if the right filmmakers/actors were involved. I’d love to see this story brought to life on the screen and for this book to get even more recognition. I’d happily read another book from Emily St. John Mandel if they’re as good as Station Eleven.
My Rating: 3.5/5