Review - Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, is just a fantastic book. Published in 2014, the book went on to win the Arthur C Clark Award in 2015.
The story is written in a shifting third-person perspective, which also moves non-linearly through time. The through-line of the writing isn’t the timeline, but the characters.
I feel sorry or Emily St. John Mandel in a way, because her book touches on topics that may not sit well with audiences for a while. Station Eleven is a story that has a devastating pandemic that kills 99.99% of people. In this post-2020 world, it might be hard for people to immerse in a world where people are panic buying, dying of disease, calling their loved ones and friends with the knowledge that they will die. For a book written five years before COVID 19, the character response to the pandemic is spot on, and the subsequent collapse of civilisation has a there but for the grace of God go us kind of feel to it. That said, if you steel yourself for some unintentionally resonant events, the book is beautifully written and well worth reading.
Station Eleven’s prose is gorgeous. The closest I can describe it is that the story isn’t written, it’s painted. Emily St. John Mandel’s writing sees beauty in the tiniest events and plays emotions off against one another. Sometimes writer who has more flowery prose can pull their readers out of the book, but Station Eleven walks that tightrope very delicately.
The story begins in the middle, the day that the virus reaches Canada, and people begin to die in horrific numbers. The lead actor in King Lear, Arthur Leander, collapses on stage. From there it jumps to twenty years later and twenty years before. You learn about the characters pre-apocalypse and post-apocalypse.
Kirsten and the travelling symphony wander Canada performing for the small towns. She doesn’t have many memories from before the fall of civilisation, except being an extra in a play and watching the lead actor collapse. She does have two volumes of a graphic novel series, called Station Eleven, that he gave to her.
Miranda leaves her abusive boyfriend and becomes the first wife of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor. Life’s ups and down swirl around her as she finds solace in her big project, a graphic novel series called Station Eleven.
Kirsten and Miranda move through time in a dance that neither of them knows they are moving in. There are others caught up in the dance: Arthur, Arthur’s friend Clark, Arthur’s second wife Elizabeth, Arthur and Elizabeth’s only son Tyler, Jeevan Chaudhary an ex-paparazzo who once photographed and interviewed Arthur and now is training to be a paramedic when Arthur collapses on stage.
Station Eleven is an incredible read, the prose is beautiful, and the intricate plotting is delicious.