When a book pops up on enough "best of" and "must-read" lists, then it's time to give it a shot. Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven has picked up a lot of buzz and I wanted to get in on the conversation.
PLOT - Station Eleven starts with the death of Arthur Leander, an actor who suffers a fatal heart attack while performing King Lear on stage in Toronto. Leander is a big celebrity and his death immediately hits the tabloids. The news of his death is quickly eclipsed by a pandemic called the Georgia Flu, which quickly moves through the world and kills an estimated 99% of the population. The people who are left find a life without modern conveniences and one in which they must band together for survival.
Mandel tells her story through several groups of characters, all with a connection to Leander. There are Leander's ex-wives, his childhood best friend, a paparazzo who was in the audience during his final performance and Kirsten, a child actor who was on stage during his death. All have survived the pandemic and have joined different groups to survive, yet all feel haunted by the death of this one man.
LIKE - Wow. What a completely unique and unusual story. The story constantly shifts between Leander's past, his death on stage and the years after the pandemic. The shifts between the time frames and the groups of characters, kept me fascinated, because I wasn't quite sure how all of the parts would eventually fit together. Mandel writes a story that maintains a constant air of mystery. The tone is also one of danger and intensity, especially as the characters are trying to survive post-pandemic. The story has shades of other recent apocalyptic survival stories, like The Walking Dead, Revolution and The Road.
What sets this apart from being another apocalyptic tale is it's also a meditation on the meaning and importance of preserving art and culture. What becomes important to preserve while you're struggling to survive? One of the groups is a roving band of musicians, who also perform Shakespeare plays. Another character decides to create a museum of objects of importance, like iPads and stilettos, from before the pandemic. The title, Station Eleven, is the name of a comic book series that Leander's first wife creates prior to the pandemic, but which takes on a significance for several characters years later.
DISLIKE - I disliked the immediate ending, as it felt like a continuation, rather than a wrapped up story. Maybe it's because I wasn't quite ready for the story to end? It was so good, that I wanted more.
RECOMMEND - Yes! Station Eleven unique story lives up to its hype and Mandel is a wonderful storyteller. In particular, I think that people in the arts would respond strongly to this story.