Station Eleven ~ Emily St John Mandel

 

This was a book I took to Brighton in the summer. Borrowed from the library after a recommendation from Sarah (read her enchanting blog here).

I’m so glad I chose this to read as it was an engrossing journey from start to finish, though it raised many questions. The story-line follows the events as the world’s population is ravaged by an infectious disease leaving only small groups of survivors to weather the subsequent collapse of civilisation.

The focus is less on the cause and details of this apocalypse than the after-effects and new meanings it brings to relationships between people and to their things. Objects we might give little significance to in our current world, a paperweight perhaps, or a couple of science fiction comics (from which comes the title) take on a whole new value in this irrevocably changed world.

I loved the way the author played with time throughout the novel. It was masterfully done, and I can’t imagine the kind of planning that went into crafting the constant to and fro between the past, present, and future. And also the way a minor character comes to the fore to play a key role at one point in the novel then recedes or disappears again at another point. The most consistently main character is Kirsten. She is a child at the beginning of the novel, acting a small role in a play of Shakespeare’s King Lear. After the apocalypse she joins a travelling group who perform Shakespearean plays and musical entertainment for the small settlements that have evolved out of the dying civilisation.

The author Emily St John Mandel was extremely courageous to attempt such an ambitious tale. It is not a long novel, but it is intricate and daring. At no point did this novel feel like a work of fantasy. This scenario is a real, if very unlikely possibility. Can you imagine a world without electricity or electronic devices; no cars or planes or the vast populations and the complex infrastructures they uphold including the food system, but still knowing what we know? It is horrifying to read about and to imagine, yet there were elements of it that were appealing. Life might not be better, but it is simpler when surviving is all you have to think about.

Inscribed on the front of the caravan in which the travelling group tour from settlement to settlement are the words ‘survival is not sufficient’, a quote from a long forgotten Star Trek episode. What is sufficient? What does make life worth living. What would be worth saving? Despite my sometimes love often hate relationship with technology, computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, like the characters in Station Eleven I know I would miss them. And I know I too would turn to books (I’d be lugging around a suitcase full of ’em), art, poetry, music, dancing and friendship for in these I find meaning in what often feels like a meaningless world.

It was a thought-provoking read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

8 thoughts on “Station Eleven ~ Emily St John Mandel

  1. I bet I would like this book Kim as I feel we have similar tastes. I think (in the West at least) that we have forgotten the true meaning of life. Orthodox medicine seems the only type of system taken seriously rather than encouraging people to take charge of their own well being. We have lost touch with nature and got suckered in by decades of government rule that tell us what to do, how to think, and make us feel that we are not capable of making our own judgements. We are dis-empowered.

    I long for a more simplistic way of life and am working my way towards it. x

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    1. After trying for many years to simplify my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me anyway it’s an impossibility. I over-complicate and over-analyse far too much and can’t seem to alter that. I find meaning is often fleeting – easy to find for a few moments but then gone and I am lost once again. I am trying to find, I don’t know, contentment maybe with that feeling of lostness. I hope you get the chance to read it Simone, I think you would like it too – I was surprised to find it in the library, maybe it’s in yours? Enjoy your weekend xx

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  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the book 🙂 I was reading today about how if America permanently lost all its electricity (through an electromagnetic bomb) then 90% of the population would die within a year . That amazed me, because people managed to live just fine without electricity for thousands of years (and still do in many parts of the world). But apparently American society has become so completely reliant on it, complete disaster would ensue. So Emily’s book was not all that unlikely it seems.

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    1. I found all the events in the book quite plausible. My son thought that survival in a situation like this would be a lot easier than is portrayed in the book. It’s interesting what you say that they think 90% would die without electricity – surprising if true. I would imagine/hope that humans are more resilient and adaptable than that. Perhaps not though when you think about the sheer numbers of people now, as opposed to years ago when local resources would have easily served the few that lived nearby. Who knows. But it’s interesting to think about. 🙂 x

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  3. I really enjoyed that book and I didn’t know I liked dystopian fiction! See you learn something about yourself. I loved her writing style and the steady movement of the plot. I never tired of reading.

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  4. I liked this book, too. I liked the way an orchestra and actors were so heavily featured, and not just dudes in checked shirts with big knives we assume with run amok should things go wrong. 😉

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