Station Eleven has been getting rave reviews, pretty much across the board; and for good reason. It is a captivating, intriguing, mysterious, and complex novel, that never forgets that a book is generally supposed to be entertaining and fun. What it ends up being is a must-read book for all book lovers out there.
Author Emily St. John Mandel has created a complex, and non-linear, narrative that is quite easy to follow, and allows us to enjoy all the jumps in time, character, and setting. She provides unique views through the eyes of several characters, and readers will be rapt with attention as we wait to see how everybody is really connected at the end.
Station Eleven begins with a famous actor dying on stage during a stage production of King Lear in Toronto. A man from the crowd attempts to revive him, but with no luck. One of the young actresses in the play, Kristen, watches as her lead actor, and sometime mentor, collapses and dies in front of a packed house.
From here, the events move to the events of the deadly Georgian Flu, a plague that ends up wiping out the majority of the world’s population. We are provided with the events of the Flu, and are given some touching moments as people die, and others survive. A character, locked in an apartment with his wheelchair bound brother, watching as the news channels slowly click off, provides us with stirring humanity, and a realistic look at what may occur in an apocalyptic world.
There are a ton of stories in Station Eleven to be told, and full credit goes to the author in that they are all interesting. In many cases with novels with several narratives, I find myself reading through certain chapters only to get back to the characters that I really care about. Not here. They are all good, well developed characters, and each one of their stories is unique and interesting. From the past life of Arthur, the famous actor, and his failed marriages, to the traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who travel around the post-flu world performing music and Shakespearean plays, to the dangers of being on the road, to the survivors who have made a home in an airport, which also houses the mythical and legendary Museum of Civilization, and the strange town which is run in cult-like fashion by someone only calling himself the prophet, Station Eleven is full of enjoyment, mystery, darkness, and hope. It is wonderfully written from start to finish, and gives us complete stories on everybody involved. St. John Mandel does a fantastic job of weaving her stories together, making them all important, fun to read, and managing to continually drive the curiosity of the reader, as we are always wondering what is going to become of the characters, regardless of what time frame their narrative is written in.
As for the title itself, it refers to a set of comic books that were laboriously drawn and written by Arthur’s first wife. They were published in the most limited of runs, and one set of the comics are dutifully carried around by Kristen. With only two volumes to the story, she has memorized the story of Dr. Eleven and his trials and tribulations on a space station/seemingly utopic planet that is plagued by the evil doings of members of the Undersea. The Station Eleven comics run as a constant thread throughout the novel, and it is curious to see not only the metaphorical connections to the characters and the present world they are living in, but to actually see what will become of the comic books at the end of the novel. It makes for truly great reading.
There is really nothing to complain about in regards to Station Eleven. It is a fantastic book, a great read for book lovers and casual readers alike. It is in part a dystopian novel, but is not at all bogged down by the growing cliches of the genre. Without a doubt, Station Eleven is deserving of all the accolades it is receiving, and absolutely worth picking up the next time you visit a book store.