Book Review: “Station Eleven” Breaks the Apocalyptic Mold
Post-apocalyptic culture is all the rage right now. We have television shows like AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which is about a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies and human turmoil and has an astronomical fan base. Then we have the end-of-days novels like Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” which have amassed their own die-hard following. But none of these have interested me quite in the same way as Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” has.
“Station Eleven” is far beyond the zombies and collapsed civilizations that have become almost standard. This novel revolves around the re-establishment of humanity in a smoother manner: by way of art. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a theatre production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” ends with Lear truly dying on stage, an eight-year-old version of the novel’s protagonist, Kirsten is introduced. “Station Eleven” focuses, with vivid detail, on what this new world is like. It particularly deals with the laments of people over the age of 20, as they have lived long enough to know both worlds. Kirsten had played one of Lear’s daughters on the night the flu, named “The Georgia Flu,” had begun to spread throughout the world, wiping out around 80 percent of humanity.
The novel then jumps to Kirsten, post-collapse, in Year Twenty, the world having started anew after the flu had run its course. She is a member of “The Traveling Symphony,” a theatre troupe who travel the new world performing Shakespearean plays for anyone who may watch them.
One of my favorite things about this novel happens to be how the other characters are introduced. The reader goes half the novel knowing some characters as merely “first flute” or “the tuba,” which allows Mandel to create a disassociation between the reader and members of “The Traveling Symphony.” This means a multitude of names and personalities don’t become jumbled and lost in the shuffle.
Another aspect of this novel that I love is how Mandel chooses to inform the reader that civilization as they know it has, in fact, collapsed.
Chapter six is the transition from past to present, done in a simple, yet hauntingly humorous way – an “incomplete” list of things that are missed in the new world: “No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expression of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween.”
Mandel’s “Station Eleven” is not merely another cog in the post-apocalyptic machine. It brings to light many of the characteristics that other apocalyptic and dystopia novels skirt over in favor of epic zombie action or major political revolutions. Because of this, “Station Eleven” is a novel that can appeal to any audience.
I am not someone who typically enjoys these types of novels, nor have I ever cared for zombies, yet “Station Eleven” managed to capture my interest from beginning to end. I highly recommend that anyone considering reading this novel should let themselves be swept away by Mandel’s representation of a world thriving after the one we know has gone.