Review of Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

A book club alternate this month, I am always looking for a few more suggestions and this one was a great read. Despite promises of post-apocalyptic grittiness and Atwoodian overtones, I chanced a delve and was well rewarded.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is a 2014 novel that flits skilfully between the days (and years) leading up to a global pandemic that reduces the world’s population by 99% in the space of days. and in subsequent decades surviving stragglers cope with life in a brutal world. The tale focusses on a number of individuals who all shared connection to Arthur Leander, an actor who suffers a heart attack just as the world faces the pandemic.

St John Mandel weaves the individual characters’ stories and timeshifts with particular aplomb that really sets this novel apart. The writing is evocative because it pointedly has the characters facing hard choices and verbalising what this world reduced to a medieval state would feel like and force people to as a means of survival. This renders things stark and shocking. And it makes you think – this is why it is a clever and superb piece of writing.

The characters seem absolutely believable, knowable, relatable and genuine. We get to know them and we can see ourselves in their number. It’s not a didactic novel though. I am sure that there is much that I miss, but the overwhelming lesson seems to be to cherish your time and the relationships in your life. There is a sense that fate drowns the world and its population, much like the graphic novel’s cosmic aquatic world that is woven into the storyline. Set in perpetual dusk or dawn that reflects the state of the world after the pandemic, a quest for ‘the Light’ puts the survivors broader plight into a wider perspective. In this the end or beginning, the dusk or dawn? There is the good in people that emerges and there is the weakness that can be preyed upon by those with malevolent intent. That’s an older story, but St John Mandel seems to question how much individuals and are the product of their past, their experience and how these colour their behaviour.

Ultimately the novel is a satisfying meal that provokes thought and engages the reader in a compelling tale. It is far less dark than I initially feared. I would fulsomely admit that I enjoyed and am glad to have read it and would highly recommend it. I found it unique both in conception, approach but especially in how well the characters are formed and deployed. A good tale told especially well.

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