Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book 163: Station Eleven

"The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it? Perhaps humanity would soon flicker out, but Kirsten found this thought more peaceful than sad. So many species had appeared and vanished from this earth; what was one more? How many people were even left now?"

Dates read: July 23-29, 2017

Rating: 9/10

Honestly, I would not survive the end of the world. I have no survival skills. I'm not strong, or a good shot, or a person who knows things about plants that you can eat. I'm a stress-crier and I don't think anyone want to deal with that trying to stay one step ahead of the zombies. My ability to perform critical analysis and produce a pop culture reference for every situation is not going to be valuable. So my fingers are crossed that the apocalypse happens (if ever) after I'm already gone.

There are some end-of-the-world scenarios, however, that don't discriminate between the heroes and not-heroes among us. Like disease. In Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, the world is devastated, like 99%-of-the-population-gone devastated, by a mutated flu that gets into the global transportation system. In Toronto, the events kick off when an actor, Arthur Leander, collapses while playing the title role in a production of King Lear. An EMT-in-training, Jeevan, leaps onto stage to try to help, while a young actress, Kirsten, playing a child version of one of the daughters watches it play out in front of her. Within weeks, the world as we know it has ceased to exist. No more internet. Shit, no more electricity. Some people are immune and survive, but are they the lucky ones?

The primary thread of the story follows Kirsten fifteen years later, as she and the other actors and musicians who make up The Travelling Symphony journey through coastal southwest Michigan. Small communities have sprung up along the shores of the Great Lakes, and the ragtag crew that makes up the Symphony continually loop around them, performing, taking their inspiration from a line from Star Trek: "survival is insufficient". The group is excited to return to one particular town, where one of their members left them to settle down, but when they arrive they find their friend gone and things much changed. The town is now controlled by a cult leader known as The Prophet. When a stowaway pops up after the troupe has fled, trouble follows.

There are a lot of time jumps in this book. So much so that it seems almost unfair to call it entirely a post-apocalyptic novel, since a decent chunk of the narrative actually takes place before the flu hits. It goes from Kirsten in her present, to Arthur in his early years, to an interview taking place after the flu but before the principal timeline, and so on and so forth. It sounds confusing, but the way that Mandel writes it it's actually pretty easy to follow. It's a tricky thing to pull off, a narrative that moves around in time as much as hers does, but Mandel is a talented writer and, for my money, makes the emotional impact even stronger by doing it.

This is a wonderful book, y'all. Not only does Mandel handle her narrative masterfully, she also draws characters that resonate. You care about them, even knowing that some of them are going to meet their end when the virus happens. It's not a book like The Road about despair and sorrow. It's a book about people, and the connections that are made and fractured between them. There are certainly dark moments, but the atmosphere she creates is overall one of poignancy and bittersweetness. I loved reading it and am planning on purchasing a hard copy (I read this on my Kindle) so I can have it on my bookshelves to re-read on paper. I recommend it to literally anyone who likes to read.

One year ago, I was reading: Ghost Wars

Two years ago, I was reading: Americanah

Three years ago, I was reading: Mr. Splitfoot


  1. Haha, I wouldn’t survive the apocalypse, either. I’m panicky and terrible at everything. I’m glad you enjoyed this book! I read it a long time ago, but I mostly liked it, too.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Unless a group of capable people is really jonesing for someone to, like, copy edit or make pop culture jokes, I'm definitely screwed when the world ends!

  2. I love this book so much! I've read it twice and I bought a copy for myself (even though I hardly ever buy books to keep.) I always say that if there's an apocalypse I'm going back to Maine to live with one of my sisters. Between the two of them they can hunt, fish, grow food, raise chickens, can/preserve, sew, and a ton of other things I can't do. Basically my one useful skill is knitting so I can keep us all warm! (Oh, and one of my sisters has a llama and can spin wool.) They both have guns. I'd be all set with them.

    1. Your sisters sound very capable! Sadly, my sister is as useless as I am, so we're both out of luck

  3. This is one of my absolute favorite books! I was checking out someone else's blog, wondering if I should follow them, but they didn't rate Station Eleven very highly at all. I was like, nope! No blasphemy allowed!

    1. I press it on people all the time! I know not every book is for everyone, but I'm suspicious of people who don't enjoy's so good!