by Emily St John Mandel
Reviewed by SA
I’m so late to this party. It’s the end of the year, and EVERYONE has done nothing but praise this new novel for the past few months. Best book of the year? Station Eleven sure is on a whole lot of people’s lists. And for good reason.
Post-Apocalypse novels seem almost overdone these days: somehow, civilization has fallen, the world as we know it is changed forever, and those who survive the initial cataclysm have a lot of adjustments to make. Picking up Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel’s new novel, I was expecting more of the same; but I was pleasantly surprised.
So yes: civilization as we know it as ended. The Georgia flu, a viral pandemic of extraordinary proportions, kills off 99% of the planet’s population. We find ourselves twenty years later, following a troop of Shakespearian actors as they travel from settlement to settlement, working their magic on those of us who are left.
And it is beautiful.
Many people have described Station Eleven as Mandel’s ‘Love letter to humanity’, and that is exactly the tone of the novel: civilization may have fallen, but we have gotten back on our feet, we still love and respect the good things, and we can adapt to new situations. The human race is adapting; newspapers are being written again, art is still being made, and people are still living. Even Shakespeare lives on.
The book divides itself between the world after the flu, following Kirsten, who was just a child when the world changed, as she performs and travels with the troop, and the days, months, and years before the pandemic, our present. The lives of the characters are intertwined around each other, sometimes in ways that seem far too coincidental to be believable, and the novel allows us to piece together the pieces as we go along.
Everyone seems somehow connected to Arthur Leander, a well know actor with a string of failed marriages. We follow his rise to fame; his many marriages; all the way to his final performance, which is actually where the book begins. We see Kirsten’s obsession with finding clues to Arthur’s life, and her attachment to the comic books, ‘Station Eleven’, whom no one seems to have ever heard of. We follow Jeevan, a paparazzi turned paramedic; Miranda, Arthur’s first wife, whose pet project seems to taint her relationships; Clark, Arthur’s older friend; and then there is this mysterious prophet, whom we don’t know too much about…
While the coincidences that connect the characters are sometimes too far fetched – I snorted aloud at more than one occasion – I thoroughly enjoyed how each of them were drawn out. These were characters with real dimension, that you began to care about and connect to, even if you were only with them for a short time.
There is just so much hope in this novel. It reflects a human race that deals with catastrophe with its chin up, and manages to make it through and survive through the most difficult trials. Some chapters begin by telling us the things that are gone, some making you close the book and pause to consider, but then they move on, showing that what remains is us, and we’re capable of so much more. The world has changed, but we’re still living, and we’re still acting.
Station Eleven is a fantastic read. The plot is captivating and enjoyable to follow, but the writing is what sells it. The beauty in the way Mandel describes the new world, and even in how she shows our current one. A book to be enjoyed and re-read over and over again.
One thing I found fantastic was the surprise page 305; if you purchased the ‘Picador’ edition, you will know what I mean.