Station Eleven- Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven (June)

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the post-apocalyptic world recently, what with doing the Zombies Run app and reading dystopian fiction. I have genuinely had thoughts about whether I’d survive in the event of a zombie hoard or natural disaster (answer: probably not. Depressing.) Station Eleven is another example of the trend for ‘end-of-the-world’ lit and in some ways, it’s fantastic.

The novel starts on the night that a famous actor, Arthur Leander, dies onstage as he plays King Lear. His life serves as the thread of the novel, the way that characters are linked throughout the narrative. What also happens that night is that a flu pandemic hits North America and 99% of the human race is wiped out. What happens next is that we see the lives of two of those who were at the theatre- a trainee paramedic and a child actress playing one of Lear’s young daughters- develop in the strange new world.

The narrative is non-linear and I found this frustrating. The characters I would have liked to see more of, such as Arthur Leander’s friend, Clark, or Kirsten, the child actress who went on to join a travelling troupe of Shakespearean actors, were cut short and I felt like I was reading a ton of half stories. I just never felt I had time to develop an emotional link with anyone in the novel. The links to the comic book written by one of Arthur’s ex-wives- where the novel gets its name from- were quite heavy handed and it was definitely clear that were meant to get that the underwater lives of the characters in the graphic novel were meant to represent the lives of the humans who had survived the catastrophic flu outbreak.

I did like the premise of the novel; it’s one of those things that could happen (God forbid) and the stories of survival are deeply human and realistic. What would you do if you were stranded at an airport for the rest of your life? As a Shakespeare geek, I also enjoyed the Bard-related thread running throughout the novel. But overall, it felt too bitty, too rushed for me to really enjoy it.

Buy Station Eleven here (affiliate link)

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