You can grab a copy of Station Eleven by clicking the link below. None of my reviews are prompted or endorsed, I just like to promote things I’ve enjoyed.
Station Eleven is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel from Emily St. John Mandel, a Canadian author who I’d never heard of until I picked up this book on the strength of a friend’s recommendation. I’m glad that I did. The story follows a travelling band of actors, a paramedic, an ex-wife and a famous actor as it weaves its way through pre and post ‘Georgia Flu’ – a terrible virus that wipes out 99% of the Earth’s inhabitants. The flu leaves people stranded and grasping for survival, but gradually shows us them grasping for what it means to be human. The story is told through various character viewpoints that all center around an actor named Arthur Leander, who dies the night before the flu really kills off the planet. The comic book produced by his ex-wife serves as a recurring motif that ties the story together. From this focal point, we see the ambitions, dreams and losses of different characters and try to understand what makes them keep going through such a miserable existence.
“Survival is insufficient” – This is the phrase inscribed on the side of the travelling symphony’s lead caravan. It’s a quote stolen from Star Trek, but applies so perfectly to the world the characters live in that it couldn’t be any more perfect. The main character from the symphony is Kirsten, who plays Titania in Shakespeare but has two knives tattooed on her wrist to signify the people she has had to kill to get by. As with all the other characters, survival is a grim and bitter business – so it’s up to the symphony to enhance the lives of people they encounter with theatre and music. They bring life to a wasteland.
The story follows the symphony after an encounter with a maddened prophet, but traces back to Arthur Leander’s death and the story of his life. We see offshoots of other characters lives, particularly Jeevan Choudary – a paparazzi turned paramedic who tries to save Arthur but instead saves himself as the flu hits. We also see Miranda, Arthur’s first wife and author of Station Eleven, a comic book about a Doctor who escapes Earth on a space station, but is opposed by people who live below the ocean of the station – the Undersea. This comic is basically an allegory of the plot and the themes contained within – a struggle for survival and a constant reminder of the old world.
“I stood over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth” – so says the fictional Dr. Eleven. This statement is true of almost every character in the book. Whether it’s Kirsten, Jeevan or Arthur’s friend Clark – they are all battling this new world while trying to take away the sting of losing so much.
For a book about loss, Station Eleven is a spectacularly beautiful work. There are moments served by images that really capture your attention and make you imagine the situation. There are moments of genuine terror and of happiness and relief. I’ve never read a post-apocalyptic book that has been so hewn with imagery and a sprinkling of hope.
Without giving anything away, the story leaves you with a feeling of optimism. It’s a journey through emotions and scenes, through timelines and people’s lives. It’s a fantastic read that won’t take too long at 300-ish pages and will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.