Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily Mandel

After drooling over this book for months, I finally got my hands on it. A first edition, signed copy no less, which I didn’t even realize until I’d left the store and was flipping through the first pages.

I should start off by saying, I was a little hesitant about reading the book because it felt, from the description, a bit similar to one of my own projects. And in some ways, it was, but not in the ways I expected – just in the details, the strangest little details, where my jaw would drop and I’d wonder how she’d gotten into my brain or how I’d gotten into hers.

But the book in its entirety, of course, belongs only to Emily St. John Mandel. It was so different, a look into a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t entirely robbed of humanity. A world where things like Shakespeare, morning coffee, newspapers, comic books, first loves, are all still very, very important. Where people build communities and families and allies and the outliers are the ones trying to ruin that, not the other way around. The prose is haunting and haunted, eerie and wistful, nostalgic for a time we haven’t experienced, and for the one we are currently experiencing. It made me wonder what I’d miss if the lights went out, if everything we’d become accustomed to was gone. I would miss my morning coffee. Ripe bananas. Spoiling my cat. The smell of new things. Whiskey and wine, whiskey and wine.

Station-Eleven-comic-faded-FINAL-2_Page_11Station Eleven is told through a variety of viewpoints and formats, including snippets of a newspaper interview and comic books. People who might not seem important are given importance, and I appreciated this because people are important, and we tend to forget that when watching films and reading books in this setting. Everyone is a person, just like you, and this story does not forget that. It opens on a performance of King Lear, played by an aging celebrity named Arthur Leander, who dies of a heart attack on stage. Mere hours after this death, which seems like a very big deal at the time, people start to get sick and die off. The flu takes hold quickly, and kills you the same way. The story follows the people connected to Arthur, in one way or another, even though you might not understand their importance or significance until the end. Kirsten, a girl who is part of the Traveling Symphony, who move from town to town performing Shakespeare. Clark, Arthur’s old friend. Jeevan, the man who was there that night Arthur died, and who found a life for himself after. Miranda, Arthur’s wife and then ex wife, the creator of the Station Eleven comics. Each character’s story is woven into the larger narrative with such precision, definitely no gun-jumping, that when the big reveals are made, they feel so natural, like you just knew you were moving toward that bigger picture the whole time, and you finally made it. It feels like a strange relief, a beautiful kind of relief, to know that things connect the way they do.

To sum up, this book is for those who want more out of their post-apocalyptic fiction than the Doomsday style narrative. This is for those of us who already see it coming, who absently contemplate it while stirring our tea, while reading our emails, while walking our dog. Who crave beautiful, spellbinding prose alongside the fictional reality. It’s also up for a National Book Award, so that should give you a hint to the quality of the work here.

Beautiful book, beautiful characters, beautiful story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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