Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

I finished this last night, having woken up at 2:30am seriously freaked out after watching too many Marble Hornets entries yesterday. You'd think that a book about an apocalyptic plague would only make me more freaked out, but apparently plague trumps Slender Man.


Station Eleven, as you may or may not have heard, is the Next Big Thing. It's even Book of the Month at Waterstones (which essentially means they're selling it at half price or something). Twenty years after the Georgia Flu wipes out, oh, call it 99% of humanity, a Travelling Symphony journeys from town to town around the Great Lakes performing Shakespeare to the survivors. Their story is intercut with flashbacks to the last days of civilisation, when an actor called Arthur Leander had a heart attack in the middle of King Lear, and we trace the lives of some of his friends and ex-wives.


I think my favourite parts here were not actually those following the Symphony (although it's a cool and original idea) but those featuring Miranda, Arthur's first wife, and Clark, his best friend. There is something very still and sad about them both, though we never see Miranda after the flu and Clark's part comes in mainly after it. If I was hooked by the flu apocalypse premise, then I fell in love with this line (Miranda's boyfriend is criticizing her choice to illustrate a series of comics rather than do "proper" art):

"You don't have to understand it," she said. "It's mine."

That's the theme of this book, I think: the importance of Things That Are Yours, of writing, of art, of culture, of projects, and how what seems insignificant in the face of global disaster are perhaps the most important things of all. Both the Symphony and the other great post-apocalyptic cultural Thing, the Museum of Civilisation, are hubs of decency and, yes, "civilisation" in the midst of a world of chaos and cruelty. The idea that humanity still has the potential to imagine brings hope to everyone. I love this message, the fact that, despite the deaths of billions, the novel is still one of hope.


I do find the prophet a little clichéd as a Threat to Civilisation - it's too easy to blame religion for everything that goes wrong in the Last Days - but really that's a small thing. I enjoyed Station Eleven; it was everything I hoped it would be.