September Bookclub Review: Station Eleven

Tuesday 30 September 2014 by

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel, Book, PicadorStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Published by Picador

DAY ONE

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

WEEK TWO

Civilization has crumbled.

YEAR TWENTY

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and it threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

~*~

I have been so lucky lately, reading a plethora of amazing novels. But Station Eleven? Frankly, this showed up all of them. Not your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Station Eleven switches between the devastating outbreak of the Georgia Flu, and twenty years later, in the wake of the end of the world. For the most part, we follow Kirsten as she travels with the Travelling Symphony, bringing Shakespeare and music to the remains of humanity.

But, things that may seem unconnected soon reveal themselves to be closer than you think, and Kirsten’s world switchbacks between her life before, and its link with the famous actor Arthur, and her role in the Symphony as they come across the sinister Prophet.

Meanwhile, at an old airport, an elderly man maintains the Museum of Civilization – a collection of things that were lost.

There is a poetic brilliance to this book. The world is not overrun with monsters, and the end of the world was not hellfire and explosions – it was just a cold. The pure simplicity and nothing-ness of the situation is all the more haunting for it.

I have been obsessed with this book, even after reading it. It carries on playing over and over in my head, and when a book does that, you know it’s good. The ideas of both the Symphony and the Museum are genius – the exploration of human character, of moral compasses and the reaction to trauma. Kirsten is a compelling lead for the most part, but for me it wasn’t her, or Arthur, or even Jeevan, who held my attention in the “before” chapters, but Miranda – one of Arthur’s wives – and I wish we could have stayed with her longer.

Each character is a bright light amongst the miasma of story. Even the minor characters are vivid and perfectly-realised.  And the new, post-apocalyptic world is overwhelmingly intense. I was impressed with every page – whether following the self-centred Arthur as he buries himself in fame and misfortune, or the eerily quiet road with the Symphony and their broken down cars pulled by horses, or the ramshackle outskirts towns with their survivors.

The ending (not that I’m about to give it away) was suitably satisfying in the kind of non-ending that is so hard to pull off. There are scenes throughout that leave you breathless with fear, anticipation, frustration, joy and hope. There is so much more to this story than this book holds, and rather than leaving you feeling unfulfilled, it leaves you with a sense that this is more than mere fiction.

Before I get too carried away with how brilliant this is, I will swiftly end this review with a resounding five stars. You don’t have to like dystopian fiction, urban fantasy or any other kind of imaginative fiction on those lines, because at no point does it feel anything but true. Emily St John Mandel is a phenomenal storyteller and I can’t wait to get my hands on everything she ever writes.

What did you think of Station Eleven?

October’s House of Blog Bookclub is How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran! Tweet your thoughts through the hashtag #HoBBookclub on Twitter or write on the wall on the House of Blog Facebook page.

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