Station Eleven // Book Review

Day One: The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the Earth like a neutron bomb.

New reports put the mortality rate at 99%...

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment as life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. 

"Because survival is insufficient"

Station Eleven was downloaded onto my Kindle as a preemptive read for the Bloggers Book Club in July, but the temptation was too strong and when I found some unexpected spare hours enter my life I absorbed this book at such a rate it must have looked like I was playing Fruit Ninja.

Some have described this novel as 'dystopian', but before you roll your eyes and think 'Hunger Games for adults' I'll have to throw Mandel some support. Yes, you could easily say that a novel set at 'the end of the world as we know it' has a prosaic and predictable formula, but not in the case of Station Eleven. The novel spans decades, back and forth into the world before the collapse of civilisation and after, when those left are attempting to place meaning back into their lives after overcoming a period focused only on 'survival'.

When dealing with an 'end of the world' plot, so many writers slip into the routine of using characters only as tools with which to map their imagined future. Fine, but I find this fails to create any real sense of engagement with the reader. Emily St. John Mandel manages to create an alternate world that I could really see myself in. It's contained through perspective, yet she delicately nods towards a wider setting that her own characters have very little knowledge of.

Common knowledge of vaccines, pandemics and antibiotic resistance is worked into the novel to make it truly believable in a way that doesn't rely on lengthy scientific explanations. When humanity is stripped down to it's bare bones, how do you go about building it back up again?

I found that the novel prompted some really interesting questions about civilisation and what makes us human (we all know I love a good philosophical debate). Do you turn to religion or Shakespeare? Is Shakespeare a religion? Are they both coping mechanisms? What's remains important when the concept of convenience is entirely redundant?

The characters are refreshing and diverse, each weaving a thread into a connected fate that spans pre and post-apocalypse. The human experience of art, memory, imagination and ambition are explored in an unpretentious way that seeks to unpick what sustains us all.

In short, I was hooked from beginning to end and truly captivated by the world Mandel creates in the shadow of apocalypse. The in-depth look at fame and celebrity appeased the side of me that so often glances over at the Daily Mail 'Sidebar of Shame', yet the vivid depiction of human resilience set my imagination on fire.

I loved this book. It's the perfect mix of relatable characters, an excellent plot and vivid settings.

Snug Rating: 4.5/5

You can read more of my book reviews here. If you like the sound of the Bloggers Book Club (think skype, cake and a lovely set of chatty ladies), head here.

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