“Hell is the absence of people you long for.” – Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
An aging actor full of regret. His ex-wife, an artist who longs for a simpler life. A young man who doesn’t know himself yet. A little girl filled with unrequited fascination for a world that isn’t real. A symphony that lived on when everything else had died. I didn’t just read this book. I lived the characters’ lives, knew their secrets, thought of their wildest dreams. It’s a journey that will make the reader rethink their current situation once they’ve taken it.
‘Station Eleven’, written by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 is a post-apocalyptic fiction novel dusted with dark undertones rich philosophies. The plot kicks off with the death of the most important character, Arthur Leander, an actor who seems happy on the outside, but is riddled with the weight of the decisions he’s made. It was the Georgia Flu that killed him, and it was that same flu that went on to kill the rest of the world, swiftly and efficiently, destroying all civilization.
After all of the gasoline and electricity had disappeared, even after the internet simply blinked out of existence one day, a new world was born, a world of survivors of the old earth, who knew all too well the wonders of light pollution and a lit-up screen once upon a time, as well as those who knew only their stories. One particular group of these survivors came together to form The Travelling Symphony. Manned with ancient instruments and memorized Shakespeare plays, they visit dead cities to share their art. A member of said symphony, a young girl named Kristen Raymonde, struggles to remember her connection with the late Arthur Leander throughout the book, as well as the meaning of the strange comics he gave her, all while living with the fear that a mysterious prophet may be following her.
This book was an enthralling new experience for me. I picked it up from my local library because the synopsis had compared it to ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern, one of my favourite novels. The two are nothing alike, aside from the facts that every character is connected in some way, and the story jumps back and forward in time, not following a straight Point A to Point B timeline. Unlike most new dystopian fiction, this novel depicted a future that seemed scarily plausible. A wicked pandemic sweeps planet earth, leaving nothing man-made in its wake. Sounds like it could happen, right? That’s what made it so philosophical for me, because it caused lots of late-night thought sprees and a lot of daydreaming, that mostly consisted of “what-if-it-were-me” ideas.
I found ‘Station Eleven’ to be a very light read, despite the fact that it really made me think. I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I usually do, it felt more like I was reading their memoirs (it’s not at all set up like a memoir, don’t let that throw you) instead of reading their feelings. As well as this, it also became quite predictable towards the end. Once I had about 50 pages left, I had already figured out what was going to happen. I did quite enjoy this read, though. I loved that it was mostly set in Canada, around the area where I live, as it was something familiar that I could relate with. I found the plot to be innovative, but I am now torn between thinking, “There’s so much more she could have done with the story!” and “I don’t think there’s anywhere else she could have gone with this.”
I definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking for something realistic, but dotted with a bit of science-fiction here and there. It’s great for all ages, and filled with fresh, quotable material, the kind that’s perfect for a school book report. If you tried ‘The Night Circus’ and liked it, but found it to be too complex, this is a wonderful story written in the same dreamy, detailed style with less complexity. It’s also a tad ‘The City of Ember’-esque, but a little darker and obviously it does not take place underground. I hope you found this to be helpful or interesting. Thank you so much for reading.