Published by: HarperCollins
ISBN 13: 9781443434867
Published: September 2014
Format reviewed: eVersion from Edelweiss
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
As a pre-note – this is another book where I can’t decide which cover I like best. Which is your favourite?
‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and for the past few years. As someone who reads at least 150 books a year, and has judged a few award sets (meaning a wide range of books thrust at me), this statement means quite a bit. This book is quite simply – amazing.
Split across different timelines, we see Toronto as disaster strikes, as well as the lives of the characters involved well before this incredible time, as well as the aftermath, and then also 20 years afterwards. Much like Nancy Kress’s ‘After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall’ (also brilliant), but Station Eleven mixes it up and takes you here, there and everywhere in perfect balance – at no time do you sigh when there’s a change and think ‘Nooo, I want to keep reading about that character, then!’, instead of you ‘Ahh, excellent!’ This seems to be a hard thing to pull off, and yet Mandel achieves it triumphantly.
This book begins with Jeevan who is at the theatre to see a production of King Lear when the lead, Arthur Leander, falls ill. Having a past that includes medical training, Jeevan and another member of the audience attempt to resuscitate Arthur to no avail. That night, Georgia Flu begins to claim its first victims, and Jeevan is unable to make it safely home. A friend who still works in the medical field calls him to get it across just how serious this really is. Jeevan buys carts and carts of food from a disbelieving small supermarket attendant at midnight, then holes up in his nearby brother’s flat.
This marks the web of characters we follow throughout the novel, as all are connected to Jeevan or have one degree of separation. We see the many wives actor Arthur Leander had, and also follow the life of a girl in her mid to late 20s – who was a young girl in the production of King Lear, and has now grown up through the effects of the disaster, holding only faint memories of what the world was once like. Now she travels by foot with a group of performers – actors and musicians, performing for anyone they meet along the way. On their journey they meet a ‘prophet’ who is ruthless and cunning, and from here the lives of The Traveling Symphony and turned completely upside down in an already turbulent world.
It’s excellent to see how the different characters tie together, as it’s not always apparent from the start of the character arc. This book doesn’t seem like a dystopian at first glance, and yet that’s what it is – yet written in a literary sense rather than the gritty closer-to-science-fiction that’s so popular right now. In every way this book takes what has been done before and done it in a refined, eloquent way. You see everything for what it is, the danger and destruction, the ruthlessness one must have to survive. This book also shows what a toll it must take on a person to actually kill a human being. In most dystopians the characters often seem to take it easily as something they’ve simply been raised knowing they have to do. In this book, those deaths hold a little more weight.
Also dispersed through the novel are clips of interviews that have been collected in the 20 years since the disease swept the world, which also assists with tying this novel together in a clever way.
Overall this is an excellent book, and I would love to see more, whether it’s novellas or even more novels continuing on, or filling the gaps. I’ll surely be keeping an eye out for Mandel’s other books in the future.