Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven
From Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel:
Open quote 

Jeevan was crushed by a sudden certainty that this was it, that this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: A-

There's no getting around it: this is a post-apocalyptic novel. Thankfully, no zombies. And no space aliens, even though the title, "Station Eleven" refers to a fictional space station in a comic book that plays a role in several characters' lives. The apocalypse in this novel is a global flu that wipes out 99% of the globe's population in a matter of days. Scattered survivors do what humans always do: survive. "Station Eleven" follows some of them in the hours, days, and years after the flu hits. Part of the story deals with the immediate aftermath of the flu. Part is set 15 to 20 years after, following a traveling symphony that puts on productions of Shakespeare and Beethoven symphonies to scattered communities of survivors in rural Michigan. Not only do humans learn to survive, but the human spirit does, too.

But to summarize "Station Eleven" as a post-apocalyptic novel is to sell it short. Many chapters are devoted to the time before the flu hits -- hours, days, even years before. On the day of the flu outbreak, one main character suffers a heart attack on stage in a production of King Lear, even before anyone in the theatre is aware that the first victims of the flu are dying elsewhere in the city. The stricken actor's story is connected to the traveling symphony's story by way of other characters' stories before the flu hits. There's a lot of coincidence involved, but nothing that a willful suspension of disbelief can't handle. Readers expecting mainly a science fiction tale might be disappointed in these personal stories. On the other hand, readers who usually steer clear of science fiction novels might nevertheless really like "Station Eleven" because of the human interest.

The story jumps back and forth in time and focus, gradually drawing the characters and their stories together. It is easy to empathize with the characters. It is easy to be drawn into their lives before, during and after the collapse of civilization. And let's face it: I found it fascinating to imagine what would happen to the world if a global pandemic did strike.

Station Eleven in Kindle format is available from the Richardson Public Library.

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