Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
No. of Pages: 352
Genre: Science Fiction
Origins: Knopf Doubleday
Release Date: 9 September 2014
Bottom Line: Perfectly fine story but left me feeling flat
“An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: ‘Because survival is insufficient.’ But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”
Thoughts: The premise and execution of Station Eleven are perfectly acceptable. The story itself is fascinating, as the collapse of civilization due to something as seemingly innocuous as the flu usually is. The telling of the story in non-chronological sequence adds a layer of interest and complexity. The story itself is well-told. Yet, the entire story may leave readers feeling uninspired.
This is not the fault of the story. As already mentioned, it is well-executed with effective descriptive language and a well-plotted storyline. The characters themselves are interesting in how they handle the collapse and the years afterwards. Yet, there is nothing to build a connection between character and reader. None of the characters create an empathetic bond within readers. Readers cannot step into the story but rather remain firmly outside as an observer.
This removal from the heart of the story is what keeps Station Eleven from being truly excellent. In such post-apocalypse novels detailing the collapse of society, readers want to become a part of the story. They want those blurred lines between fantasy and reality. They want to question how they would react in similar situations. However, none of that occurs with Station Eleven. Readers never lose the sense that it is nothing but a story. There is none of the feel that society is one good flu strain away from similar circumstances. The remoteness that prevents readers from sympathizing with the characters also prevents them from being able to see the novel as nothing more than one person’s imagination in print.
This all means that readers will want to love Station Eleven more than they actually do. On the surface, there is everything there that should make this story difficult to set aside. Instead, readers will be firmly aware of the passage of time while reading and may find other chores that require more immediate attention than the book. Unfortunately, the resulting sense of disappointment lingers long after the details of the novel fade into memory.