Review: Station Eleven by Emily Mandel
Updated: Oct 10, 2021
"Survival is insufficient"
Most apocalypse novels I read always try to push grimly forward into horror or dystopia, but Station Eleven travels back and forth between the pre-flu world and Year Twenty after global collapse, when the worst is over, and survivors have come together to form isolated settlements with the ruins of the world they had once known. Gradually, the book builds with connections that are made between the two time frames, and characters who do or don't live to see the collapse: including Jeevan, a paparazzo who dreamed to become a paramedic; Kirsten, a child actor who grows up to perform Shakespeare with the travelling band Symphony after the pandemic; and Miranda, whose creative world revolved around a hand-drawn comic called Station Eleven which miraculously survives, becoming both a symbol of the old world and a distorted mirror of the new; and finally Clark whose unexpected journey leads him to preserve the old world while trying to bridge a gap between the new one.
The man who connects all the dots between these characters is, Arthur Leander, a famous actor who dies on stage just before the Georgia Flu wrecks the world. Though he doesn't experience the catastrophe, his story is the beating heart of the book. The serene atmosphere of her prose extends to her characters in the book, while the book is visually compelling, evocative, with a touch of melancholy and poignant and impressively gripping, we never feel the panic and the sense of doom of the disaster, let alone its moral dilemma.
Station Eleven is more than an apocalypse and dystopian story, it is about memory and loss of loved ones, nostalgia, and yearning about the known and unknown. Mandel wakes the weary feeling of life slipping away, for Arthur as an individual and then writ large upon the entire world. In Year Twenty, Kirsten, who was eight years old when the flu hit and the world she knew started to crumble, is interviewed about her travels, memories, and says that the new reality is hardest to bear for those of remember the old one and are trying to figure out their life. "The more you remember, the more you've lost," she explains – a sentiment that could apply to any of us, here and now.
“They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.”