A creative blend of realistic literary fiction and apocalyptic fantasy
“Station Eleven” is a science fiction/literary fiction novel written by Emily St. John Mandel. It was published on Sept. 9, 2014 by Knopf.
As I do with most novels, I picked up “Station Eleven” because of its beautiful cover. I loved the atmosphere it created. I’d heard about the novel somewhere before, maybe read about in a Goodreads list. “Station Eleven” was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2015, it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom, and the Toronto Book Award. Much of the novel’s critical acclaim comes from the fact that, for a science fiction novel, it reads much like literary fiction. The novel creates a stunning blend that is both highly creative and unusual.
“Station Eleven” is a novel based around the outbreak of a terrible flu that rapidly wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population. There are no zombies, no aliens, no greater conspiracies, just the remnants of a lost world. The novel tells the story through several points of view.
We start off with Jeevan, whose story mostly revolves around day zero of the outbreak and the couple weeks that follow, showing humanity’s fall.
Kirsten was an eight year old child actress when the outbreak happened. Most of her story takes place 20 years later and shows the reader what life has become post-apocalypse. Kirsten moves through what’s left of Lower Michigan in a nomadic band of actors called the “Traveling Symphony,” as they reenact Shakespeare plays for newly formed towns. She and the band run into dire issues once they accidentally cross a religious extremist, known as “The Prophet,” who has taken complete control over one of the passing towns. Kirsten frequently obsesses over her small comic collection, titled ‘Station Eleven” and the actor Arthur Leander, who she watched die as a child.
Miranda, Arthur and Clark’s stories tell us about their entire lives up to the outbreak and after, for as long as they can survive. Their stories weave the plot more tightly together and reveal many things about “Station Eleven” and how it came to be.
So is it any good?
“Station Eleven” is quite the jewel. I think its biggest strong suit is that the novel is built to appeal to both lovers and haters of apocalyptic fiction. The novel strategically avoids stereotypes in the genre and more than half of it takes place before the apocalypse even happened. The major focus doesn’t seem to be on the survival of humanity itself, but on the survival of human culture.
I found Miranda’s plot to take hold of me the most. Many pages of the novel are dedicated to her point of view and really solidify the literary fiction aspect of the novel. Watching her grow up and her complex relationship with Arthur was incredibly fun to read and it took place decades before the outbreak.
Kirsten appears to be the closest thing to a protagonist in the novel. She is the one who progresses the current world forward, her struggle to remember the past prompts many of the other characters chapters, and all roads seem to lead back to her. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of zombies or much of the supernatural. Kirsten’s chapters felt very real and believable, which smoothed my transition into this post-apocalyptic world and helped me stay on board with it.
As I read Kirsten’s chapters, I had to keep stopping to remind myself that she is 28 years old. For some reason, this did not come off to me at all. Kirsten’s mind read more like a young adult. My image of her is as a 16-18 year old girl. This is probably not the author’s intention, but my enjoyment of young adult literature made it a very small issue for me.
Clark’s chapters came off somewhat sluggish. He lives very long both before and after the apocalypse. While he does play a role in key moments, much of his chapters are just him doing a routine or wandering aimlessly. Many of his chapters exist solely to give us a side view of another character, which I found took away from him as a whole.
Overall, “Station Eleven” is a fantastic novel. I highly recommend it. You can find “Station Eleven” on Amazon, BookDepository, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.
A film adaptation has also begun development for “Station Eleven.” The release date is currently unknown.