Station Eleven is a novel of loss, of hope, of regret, and of love in all its forms.
It begins with the death of a famous actor, followed swiftly by an outbreak of a flu so vicious it wipes out 99% of Earth’s population in a few short weeks. In the wake of the collapse the world we know, survivors try to rebuild their lives in small communities. One of these communities is ‘The Symphony’ – a group of travelling actors and musicians who perform classical music and Shakespeare to the survivors they come across.
However, this is much more than an end-of-days novel. This is really a beautiful character study, and Mandel does a spectacular job at creating characters who are multi-dimensional and interesting, with depths that take the entire novel to explore. Many of the characters have something in common, and that something is the actor who dies on stage at the beginning of the novel. Mandel is skilled at creating a multitude of coincidences that cause our character’s paths to cross, without ever crossing the line into utter disbelief.
One of the most incredible things was that, usually, in a novel written in various POVs, there’s one or two characters I truly do not care about. When their chapters come around it’s often time to either set the book down until next time or rush through it to get back to my favourites more quickly. With Station Eleven, I did not have that problem. At all. The prose was just so gorgeous that each character was instantly engrossing. Plus, the chapters all seemed to be just the right length. Just as I was reaching the limits of my interest in reading about post apocalyptic airports, the scene changes. Perhaps we flit 20 years into the past, or 2 years into the future. Then maybe back another 5 years. The non-linearity of the novel was just another reason for me to stay almost glued to my kindle.
And of course, the catalyst for all these beautiful stories of interwoven lives and personalities is, of course, the apocalypse. And once again I was so impressed by the gentleness of Mandel’s writing. She describes the fallout with such grace, while never skimping on the more gruesome elements of the world’s end. She’s all about showing without telling. We KNOW there are half a hundred rotting corpses behind that door, but Mandel is far too elegant to say that. She simply points something out to us, hinting at the macabre, before moving on to internal monologue while we double take. It was insanely refreshing to read something apocalyptic that didn’t focus on cannibals, rapists, murderers, zombies and so on. Instead, the entire novel is saturated in hopefulness and gratefulness and human resilience.
It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s on my favourites shelves already. I found it beautiful and moving and at times a little scary (don’t read this when you’re coming down with a sore throat) and I loved all of the perfectly imperfect characters. I only hope that now, some enterprising publishing house will see the potential in the fictional comic books from which the novel takes its name. I want more of this story.