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Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven (2014)

8 Comments

Station_ElevenTo be entirely honest, I don’t even know what I could possibly say about Station Eleven that hasn’t already been said. I’m usually super cautious about digging into books that get a lot of hype, but this one got the good kind of hype from book bloggers whom I know I can trust, so I jumped right in. And of course, everyone was right, this is one amazing book. And since all the intelligent things have already been said about it, I’ll just focus on some of the aspects I loved the most.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel set 20 years after a particularly virulent strain of the flu has killed the vast majority of the population. The Internet is gone, there are no cars, phones, and computers, airtravel and electricity are a thing of the past. The first 20 years have been hard and life is still much harsher than we’re used to, but one thing that I absolutely loved about Station Eleven is that it’s set once life has started to “normalise” a bit under the new conditions. People again have jobs, there are certain rules, and above all, there’s still art. Station Eleven follows a travelling symphony that puts on concerts and stages Shakespeare plays. Their motto is “Survival is not enough”, and if the idea that even after civilisation as we know it is over, culture and the arts continue to exist and inspire isn’t uplifting, then I don’t know what is.

Station Eleven is set at a time when many people are still around who know what life before the flu was like, but there are already children and even young adults who only remember post-flu life. I loved how the different ways of dealing with the catastrophe are portrayed in the book. Many people try to pass on their knowledge of how things were to the children, but trying to explain the Internet to someone who has only ever seen a computer as a non-functional plastic box that does nothing at all is a challenge. One of my favourite characters curates a “Museum of Civilisation” where he keeps things like passports, credit cards, mobile phones, etc. on display for those who want to either reminisce about life before, or marvel at things they don’t fully comprehend. Others interpret the flu as some sort of punishment, many join strange cults.

I loved how Station Eleven follows a number of characters and slowly peels away their stories from before and after the flu. Their lives are all interconnected, and slowly these connections appear until at the end, the reader understands how they all fit together. And rather than being contrived (as it might if the story were less well-crafted), the characters’ encounters before and after weave a touching fabric. I cried several times during Station Eleven, because what happens is terrible, but I also cried because the slivers of hope that keep appearing are so touching. This isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic “anarchy is everywhere” and “things will just keep getting worse” kind of book. Instead, it’s inspiring and hopeful in a very melancholic way. I loved it.

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Author: bettinathenomad

Nomadic fan of books, food, the outdoors, and water. International Relations geek. Chlorine is my perfume.

8 thoughts on “Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven (2014)

  1. Beautiful review, Bettina! I have been seeing reviews of ‘Station Eleven’ for a while now and I am glad that you liked it so much. I will add it to my ‘TBR’ list. I love the fact that it is inspiring and hopeful and not so bleak like probably Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ is. Your description of the computer as a nonfunctional plastic box, made me smile 🙂 It also made me think of the first personal computer MITS Altair 8800 which came without a monitor and which no one knew how to use because there was no software those days 🙂 I loved this sentence from your review – “And rather than being contrived (as it might if the story were less well-crafted), the characters’ encounters before and after weave a touching fabric.”

    • Thank you, Vishy :). You should indeed read it soon, because it’s such a good book! It’s still early(-ish) in the year, but I think this will definitely make my best-of 2015 list. I haven’t read “The Road”, but I find a lot of post-apocalyptic books and films really difficult to stomach because they tend to be so bleak. That’s why I loved the premise of “Station Eleven”.

  2. Ok, I’m convinced! Moving this up my TBR list.

  3. I started listening to this at work. I hope I don’t cry!

  4. I’ve had this one under my radar for a while now. I’ve read lots of reviews, but it’s the first time I saw the motto ““Survival is not enough”. Just that makes me bump it up the wish-list!

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