Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
As Jeevan attempts to resuscitate the actor he was moments ago watching play the lead in King Lear, the pandemic is already spreading. He fails to bring the well-known actor, Arthur Leander, back to life, and by the time he leaves the venue, his girlfriend is long gone. As he begins his wintery walk home, he receives a phone call from a friend of his who’s a doctor, warning him to get out of town, that an incredibly contagious and fast-acting flu is spreading at an unprecedented speed.
Twenty years later, the Georgian Flu broke out, killing ninety-nine percent of the people it infected, making the world is a different place. A girl that played one of the King’s daughters is now part of the Travelling Symphony. A troop of actors, actresses and musicians that have been together for years. They stay on the move, usually welcomed for a couple of days here and there in the tiny congregations of people that have slowly formed. Some are made up of thieves, killers, or have become religious cults, but others are just like them, merely trying to get by and make some sort of life for themselves out of the wreckage of a devastated world.
Station 11 American book trailer (UK cover is shown at beginning of the post)
Opening with scenes from King Lear, Station Eleven instantly introduces the character of Arthur, and although he may not be considered the lead protagonist, he is the man that connects all the survivors you meet and therefore weaves the tale together. From these first few pages, you are guided from a beautiful wintry wonderland into the breakdown of life as we know it. As Jeevan finds out about the seriousness of the outbreak before most people, you are not privy to the sudden madness you are often exposed to in many dystopian novels but a quietly understated and isolated panic that is just as unnerving. Especially when he’s filling his trolley with food, repeatedly wondering who to warn and who to stay away from. This novel never breaks into the ‘panic tropes’ of the genre, it concentrates on the first couple of days of the outbreak and then the survivors twenty years later.
Station Eleven is an intelligent and haunting look at relationships, memories, and what drives us all. It’s dark and disturbing, just as a story such as this would have to be but in a far more tender way than you might expect, for example, by describing a devastating gunshot rather than a description of the death itself.
Overall, Station Eleven is an incredible novel that leaves you wanting more. Clever twists, turns, and connections left me grinning, and it’s a story that I’m sure will stay with me for many years to come. Station Eleven is a must-read; I just hope there’s more coming from Emily St. John Mandel soon.
If you like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, you’ll love The Last by Hanna Jameson.