Typically, I don’t trust my reading habits to Amazon’s automatically generated algorithms, but when the book cover for Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven appeared in the “Science Fiction” section of my recommendations, I was struck. The glowing tents camped out under a vast sky caught my eye, and the title drew me in. What is Station Eleven? What does it have to do with tents and stars? I clicked the link to the book, intrigued. The first paragraph of its description (which is also the description on the back of the book) sealed the deal:
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
I am really into post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels (ie: The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and other works of that ilk), so I was in.
I agree with Allison, who also reviewed this book back in June, that the book moves slowly. Like her, I tend to be drawn toward more fast-paced, action-oriented books that leave me on the edge of my seat while I blast through them in a couple of sittings. But, as Allison said, Station Eleven is not like that. The pace is slow (almost agonizingly at times), but the payoff for sticking through to the end is worth the delayed gratification.
It’s worth it because, unlike many other dystopic future novels I’ve read, the setting bounces around to encapsulate a longer period of time and looks more intimately at the lives of the characters and how they are all connected. For instance, The Walking Dead is mostly focused on the events during and immediately after the zombie apocalypse, and The Hunger Games and Divergent center on a time several decades after the fall of the previous civilization and the rise of the new one. But Station Eleven gives a different perspective. It shows readers the very beginning of a pandemic, the lives of a few characters in the years, weeks, and days before it, and the lives of a few more characters two decades later. In other words, we get to revel in our civilization at its peak, watch in horror as it begins to crumble, and observe as it begins to redefine and rebuild itself. Station Eleven shows us the resilience of humanity when it is forced to undergo a change at the end of life as we know it.
But more importantly, while Emily St. John Mandel shows us this change, she infuses in us an appreciation for the world we have while also assuring us that humans will find a way to not only survive but also to thrive, no matter the circumstances. As the Travelling Symphony (quoting Star Trek) puts it, “Survival is insufficient.”
Erika is working on her dissertation. This statement is equivalent to “Erika has gone temporarily insane.”