Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Dystopian Fiction
Station ElevenAn aging actor has a heart attack on a Toronto stage, performing King Lear. A child actor watches a paramedic leap onto the stage to try to save his life. Within days, nearly every person in the theatre is dead of a virulent flu that spreads rapidly and with deadly consequences. Cellphone and landlines are jammed as loved ones desperately try to reach each other; when a call goes through, no one answers. Traffic clogs the freeways as the healthy seek to escape the cities, but there is nowhere to go. Television station signals fade to nothing, but not until after the camera points at an empty newsdesk. The electricity fails, water stops flowing from taps. The few survivors begin a new count: Year One. Twenty years later, the child actor is now part of a travelling troupe that performs symphonies and Shakespeare, using horses to pull the wagons between the small settlements around Lake Michigan that is their territory. They are determined to bring art and music to as many as possible, living the motto that adorns the lead caravan: “Because survival is insufficient.” It’s insufficient, but it’s also terribly painful for those with memories of how things were: “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” Not a fan of dystopian fiction? No worries – this is a multi-layered, character-driven literary novel. Mandel is an elegant writer, letting the reader explore this strange new world in an understated manner allows us to gain insight into our lives, as we blithely go about our business barely noticing the modern marvels of air conditioning and intercontinental phone calls. I loved Kirsten’s frustration with her elders’ ignorance of the science behind parallel universes – how could they not have explored this when the Internet was so readily available? Mandel also delivers her own renderings of universal truths: “Hell is the absence of the people you long for.” “First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.” By shifting voices between the main characters and going back and forth in time, we slowly learn the backstories of our characters whose lives intersect in beautifully complex and touching ways.
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2 thoughts on “Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

  1. Thank you! I do like dystopian fiction. I like the (typical) message of hope, ingenuity, patience, and collaboration overcoming the obstacles. But it’s not for everyone. Thank goodness – different tastes means there is lots more to choose from. Enjoy!

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