Pogach Reviews: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
It’s possible it’s all my fault. This. 2020. The whole mess. You see, in the spring of 2019, I re-read The Stand, by Stephen King, and then shortly after, I read Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig. And now here we are in the worst acute pandemic in a hundred years.
Maybe it’s like a Twilight Zone episode, where what I read has a subtle butterfly effect on the fabric of reality. Then again, I used to read Guitar World magazine, and I’m absolute shit as a musician.
In any case, Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is an absolutely, terrifyingly, horrifically familiar, wonderful novel.
Kirsten Raymonde is all of seven or eight years old when she’s cast in a production of King Lear, staring famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander. One night, Leander has a heart attack on stage and dies. It’s the final, most impactful, memory Kirsten has of the world before a (creepy alert for a novel published in 2014!!!) killer flu strikes and puts an end to civilization.
Twenty years later, Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, moving from settlement to settlement in the post-flu world of candles and hand-written letters and bandits and a mysterious prophet, performing Shakespeare.
The novel moves back and forth from the before to the after while driving toward an interconnectivity that gives the novel a The Stand meets The Grey meets Love Actually kind of vibe (without the wolves or the romantic happy ending). It’s disturbing how many of the details are familiar in 2020, though we haven’t collapsed and lost 99% of the world’s population. Yet.
I’d never read, or even heard of, the author before picking up this book, though I do know there is an HBO series coming based on it, but I will definitely be reading more of her work. Her writing is lyrical and precise. Her characters are real, and her world building is spectacular. Though this is not a save-the-world kind of novel, like The Stand or Wanderers, it carries all the same heaviness because each of the characters, like each of us, bear that weight.
It’s a difficult book to read in the midst of our own pandemic, but I highly recommend that you do pick it up. There’s enough beauty and hope in it to balance all the horrors such a subject entails.
5 / 5 stars.