Monday, October 12, 2015

Station Eleven

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7.5

Review: This novel showed up in many "best of" lists at the end of last year and has been patiently waiting for me to get to it. The story begins with the lead actor in King Lear dying on stage in Toronto from a heart attack. A day later, the Georgian Flu pandemic begins and wipes out most of the North American population.

Most of the story takes place 15-20 years after the events described in the first chapter. The Earth has lost much of its technology and people live in small segregated settlements. Most of the events revolve around a traveling troop of musicians and Shakespearean actors who move between the settlements and perform.

Station Eleven seems very much like a set of character sketches rather than a novel. The plot elements are pretty thin, but the relationships and views of the characters is what really defines the book. It was an easy read and didn't drag, but at the same time it felt like the point of the book was to reveal the connections between a set of people and places rather than to tell a cohesive story or explore the consequences of a large dystopian event.

What makes this book a bit different from a bunch of other post-apocalyptic novels out there is its emphasis on art as an important factor in post-apocalyptic recovery. The traveling troop's motto, taken from Star Trek, is "Survival is not sufficient" and showing that is something Mendel works very hard at in the book, though in my opinion she isn't entirely convincing. On the other hand, I did like the fact that she takes a fresh approach and doesn't dwell on descent into lawlessness.

Another interesting element in the novel is one of the main characters' obsessions with two graphic novels that she is given right before the world collapse. Kirsten tries to find out everything she can about them, but they are by an obscure author and there isn't much information out there. This part of her quest feels very authentic to me and I liked the way that story line is tied up at the end.

Altogether, I enjoyed reading Station Eleven. The author's writing style is smooth and the characters are well drawn, so even despite some flaws in the plot and world-building, it was an enjoyable and insightful book.