‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel is a post-apocalyptic novel which opens with the sudden death of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor starring in a theatre production of ‘King Lear’. He collapses on stage and succumbs to the Georgia Flu, a pandemic which virtually wipes out the human race in a matter of days. The survivors form the Travelling Symphony, a troupe of actors and musicians moving across territories performing classical theatre and concerts, including Kirsten, a child actress who was with Arthur when he died.
Spanning from the Travelling Symphony’s performances of Shakespeare plays to Arthur’s ex-wife Miranda’s Station Eleven comic book series, ‘Station Eleven’ features a kaleidoscopic mix of cultural influences. The parts of the story I engaged with the most were the scenes set in the airport at the point when the pandemic first took hold, while much of the rest of the novel jumps around between events before and after the catastrophe. All of the characters are in some way connected to Arthur and Mandel weaves their stories together very skilfully.
In my view, dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels are among the most difficult genres of novels to write with so many “What if?” scenarios to consider. While the recent Ebola outbreak currently makes ‘Station Eleven’ a very timely read, I felt that the consequences of the Georgia Flu were not particularly plausible. There is little sense of daily struggle among the survivors lacking easy access to food, shelter and water despite 99.99% of the world’s population having been wiped out in a matter of days with no remaining infrastructure to speak of. That said, the main theme of the story is clearly intended to be a more positive one about the enduring power of art rather than the bleaker warnings typically found in dystopian fiction.
I liked ‘Station Eleven’ but based on other reviews I have read, I feel like pretty much the only person who didn’t really love it. I suspect this is because I have recently read ‘Oryx and Crake‘ by Margaret Atwood and found it more engaging overall than Mandel’s work. Overall, ‘Station Eleven’ isn’t a book I truly connected with but it would probably be much more appealing to those who read more science fiction or dystopian novels than I do.
Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.