Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
[Image courtesy of Amazon.com.]
Oh I love this book.
Station Eleven is one of those books that have made me pause and think about my life, appreciate the world around me a little bit more, and given me more than one “hmmm…” moments.
I picked up the book thinking it was a science fiction novel that talks about what happened when the end of civilization came in the form of a flu pandemic, how the main characters fought for a chance to live, and finally survived to see that the world had not collapsed after all (think “The Day After Tomorrow”). I was only right on the first part about the flu pandemic.
The story spans across time to give snapshots of the lives of the main characters before the collapse, and describes the lives of those who survived after. And the characters are all connected through one thread (I’ll leave it to you to find out which thread). This style of switching between different time periods and characters can be confusing if the writer is not skillful enough (believe me, I’ve read my fair share of those that have done an excellent job of leaving me with a big “HUH?”), but Mandel has done such a good job that she has kept me glued to the book from beginning to end without me losing any part of the narration. And the bits about the end of air travel, the end of electricity, the end of the internet, even the end of chocolate chip cookies (What? Noooooo! Me want cookie!) gave me goosebumps. But I’m glad the book ended on an optimistic note, so that’s something to look forward to if you’re going to give it a read.
I’d always thought that one day, Mother Earth will just die from how we humans have been abusing her since we existed, but now I think otherwise. Maybe one day Mother Earth will put an end to her suffering by allowing a pandemic to wipe out 90% of the human population so that the remaining 10% can learn how to live in harmony with nature all over again. That’s really scary, and I’m not sure if I want to be one of the survivors. (Yup, this is one of the revelations I got from the book.)
VERDICT: If you’re looking for an action-packed story about the end of the world and how humans survived the disaster, you will not find it in this book. But if you’re looking for a book that will set you thinking about your own relationships and the beauty in life, art and the world around us, this is the book for you.
[For those of you who’d like to read the synopsis of the book, here’s one taken from Goodreads:
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. ]