Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel that follows multiple narratives of both past and present time frames surrounding a pandemic of flu that wipes almost 99% of the human race off of Earth’s planet. In these narratives we hear from Arthur, Clark, Miranda, Kirsten, and Jeevan; we encounter the ways in which they have, or have not, survived the pandemic and how their lives differed prior to the event as well as the ways in which their narratives are connected.

I found this novel a bit slow at first, the difference in tone with the narratives in the beginning appeared disjointed given the context and genre of the novel. At one moment you’re passing through a world ravaged by a deadly infection notorious of post-apocalyptic novels, the next you’re faced with the ugliness of marriage and impending divorce that reflects the themes of chick lit. I found this off-putting as it didn’t fit with everything else going on and it almost seemed to ruin the experience for me. However, having now finished the book I believe it may just have been that the opening of the novel doesn’t live up to the standards of the rest of the novel, seeming slow and clunky until everything comes together shortly after. It was after this that the novel really started to get better for me. I found myself facing that unsettling feeling that washes over you after reading a well written dystopian novel that leaves you feeling like the world around you is slowly falling apart – a feeling I have only experienced a few times before with my favourite series.

The concept of the novel is very true to the 21st century. With the Ebola virus, SARS etc – it’s not hard to see this novel as being a work of literary fiction, bringing global fears together in one novel. I found it interesting to see the ways in which these characters had adapted to a world without technology, how they remembered the world prior to the collapse, and their thoughts and feelings on the end of the world. The characters are very relatable in this respect – some of them going crazy, others finding solace in their memories, or adapting to the world because ‘everything happens for a reason.’ All of this brings to the novel a set of characters that develop exponentially – most of them for good.

This isn’t a book that I would purposefully go out of my way to read again, due to the slow start at the beginning really. I have definitely read far better dystopian novels, but I do love to read the differences that authors take on the same concept and Mandel does reproduce this in a convincing way.

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