I have a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world epidemics. I am drawn to movies like Contagion, or books like I Am Legend or The Road, so when I heard that Station Eleven was an apocolypic novel set in Canada, I was intrigued (to say the least) but also sceptical. This came recommended from a friend who loves Canadian literature and he compared it to Margaret Atwood (whom, I am ashamed to admit, I have yet to read). However, though this book DOES contain an “apocolypic” episode, it is so much more than that.
Station Eleven follows five major characters, over a span of about fifty years, give or take. The common thread is a connection to a famous actor named Arthur Leander, who suffers a heart attack and dies on stage at the very beginning of the novel. His death also happens to be on the eve of the epidemic outbreak. The book flits back and forth from Arthur’s early years to twenty years after his death, when the world is little more than small colonies of survivors attempting to live as normally as possible. During this time, we follow the Travelling Symphony; a group of actors and musicians who travel in old caravans, attempting to keep art and passion alive.
I wish I could tell you all about the characters, whom I loved the most, and the fate that befalls them all, but that would do an injustice to the book. St. John Mandel orchestrates the most gorgeous harmony with all five characters, weaving a web of ties between them that are either revealed early or later on in the story.
I adored the way that the end of the world (as we know it, at least) was handled here. The outbreak had my heart racing and I couldn’t tear my eyes away as I stepped off the streetcar to get to work. When we are taken to the future, I loved how certain groups held so deeply and tenderly to their previous lives, while others chose to raise their children with no knowledge of what it was like to have the internet or even electricity. There is also, of course, the religious crowd, led by a very creepy man called The Prophet, whose path you can only hope not to cross.
This book was simply gorgeous. From the elegant writing, to the characters, I relished in every page. I found it masterful that St. John Mandel was able to fit so many different aspects into one medium sized novel — and seamlessly, might I add. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.
I’ll leave you with one line, which haunts the pages of this story, and sums up so much of the novel: Survival is Insufficient. (Yes, it’s from Star Trek. I told you this book was awesome!)