Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is so HUGE right now. The book seems to have a place on every 2014 Top Ten list coming out and is being hailed as a future classic. Did critics get it right? Is all the hype true? Here’s what I think:
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
When the Georgia Flu engulfs the world and kills millions of people within days, civilization as we know it comes to an abrupt end. Moving between the past and the post-apocalypse present, we get to know a number of interconnected characters: a famous actor and his very different wives, a young man who has tried various professions, a young actress travelling with a Shakespeare troupe and a lawyer who creates a “Museum of Civilization” in an airport. But no matter whether you live in the Hollywood Hills or sleep on the side of the road in a tent, whether society stands or falls, people find themselves lost, disconnected and wanting.
Station Eleven explores some really interesting ideas about the place of technology and, more specifically, art in our lives. The complete absence of technology in the post-apocalypse emphasizes the hypnotic hold gadgets have had over people and without the entertainment, convenience or connection they provide, technology becomes part of the mythology of the old world. Art in the form of theatre, music, writing or drawing may seem irrelevant to survival, but if anything creativity proves to be a large part of the identity of many characters and helps them find their place in either world. As quoted in the book from Star Trek: Voyager, “Because survival is insufficient”, it’s not enough to meet basic physical needs; there will always be something more people need to nourish the soul.
Station Eleven spends a great deal of time following the lives of people who I didn’t really care about, such as Arthur, the famous actor/serial monogamist, and Jeevan, a guy trying to find a job that suits him. I think I understand the purpose of their individual stories, but I found female characters like Kirsten, the Shakespeare actress, and Arthur’s ex-wife, Miranda, a corporate big shot/closet comic book writer much more interesting; two women in two different worlds coming to terms with love and the inner drive to express themselves through art.
Station Eleven is a dystopian with all of the elegance and depth of a literary novel, and for this reason the book will most likely become a classic. Although parts of the plot didn’t make sense to me and some of the connections didn’t really go anywhere, the emotional struggle of the characters is where I think readers are meant to be engaged. Overall, the story made me feel sad and melancholic for this funny world we live in, but I loved Station Eleven‘s complexity and quiet finish. As silly as it may sound, it also gave me great comfort to imagine a travelling Shakespeare troupe at the end of the world. Because survival is insufficient.