There is nothing better than a well-written end of the world. From The Road, to The Walking Dead and most recently The Girl With All the Gifts, audiences across all genres and mediums have been drawn to these grim and gritty apocalypse tales.
And why shouldn’t they? The end of society as we know it is an effective springboard for fascinating stories: a starting point for characters to find redemption, peace, or even insanity. A way to view our modern world with a dirty, nostalgic and often bloodstained lense.
In this aspect, Station Eleven fits in well with the post-apocalyptic genre. It ticks all the familiar boxes: abandoned cities, murder, characters struggling to survive. Yet it is so much more than a survival story. It is more than a glimpse into an awful, probable future – the exact opposite, in fact, because at its core, Station Eleven is founded upon one question:
What if the apocalypse was more beautiful than our modern lives?
One night, famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the lead role in King Lear.
That same evening, a pandemic spreads throughout the globe, killing 90% of the world’s population.
Now, twenty years after the end of civilisation, an actress called Kirsten travels with group of performers known as the Travelling Symphony. With their make-shift wagons, they travel from place to place, performing Shakespeare and music for the last remnants of humanity.
When all is lost, what will you strive to protect?
Short version: The description is gorgeous. The feels are real. This book is amazing. Go read it. Now.
Long version: Emily St. John Mandel, in all of her work, has proven to be a master of language. Her use of metaphor and simile, the circular structure of her scenes, all the way down to the individual word choices, are not only used to paint a landscape in the reader’s mind, but to invoke emotion through the language – to make sentences breathe when the story breathes, to darken them in the sadness of the characters.
Station Eleven is perhaps the best example of this masterful writing. The pictures of overgrown homes, the vastness of the starlit skies, the long roads piled with empty cars and flowerbeds weaving through bones – everything Mandel paints in this apocalypse feels alive, and real, and beautiful.
Her description even feeds into the characters. You’re never told how to feel about a character. No one is obviously evil, no one is good. They had lives before the end of the world, and they live after it’s gone. They are all bound together in some way, but those boundaries are hardly ever trodden – or if they are, then it is only the reader who knows it.
Mandel places her reader as an observer. We watch them live and change, for better or worse, even if they aren’t aware of it themselves – we are helpless to stop them, yet we are so drawn in by their plight that we can’t look away.
But above all, the most impressive thing about Station Eleven is its impact. Throughout the novel, technology, celebrities and the concerns of our modern world are an ever present echo.
Why do we rely so heavily on our phones?
Why do we care so much about celebrities, social media, popularity?
What if they were taken away?
Are we better with it? Without it?
Since reading this book, I have never looked at technology the same way again.
The power of Mandel’s novel – the emotions, the characters, their journeys – are woven with intelligence, clever language and are fuelled by the subtle questions her world creates about our own. Whether you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, or simply want something refreshing to read, Station Eleven is one story you do not want to miss.
Have you read Station Eleven? Or any other stories by Emily St. John Mandel? Tell me below or tweet me @ERHollands. And hey, while you’re here, why not check out my book review of her other novel, The Singer’s Gun!