STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (BOOK REVIEW)
Dr Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream
‘St. John’s my middle name. The books go under M.’ Emily St. John Mandel is the author of six novels, most recently Sea of Tranquility. Her previous novels include The Glass Hotel, which was selected by President Barack Obama as one of his favourite books of 2020, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has been translated into 23 languages; and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award among other honours, has been translated into 36 languages, and aired as a limited series on HBO Max. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.
Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 dystopian thriller Station Eleven, is a haunting novel to read. Especially after the recent Coronavirus pandemic which swept the planet. To be able to compare and consider a fictional flu pandemic with the real thing is deeply unsettling and uncomfortable. Regardless of how uncanny it is to read, similar to the uncanniness felt when one reads Margaret Atwood’s Madaddam Trilogy, Mandel’s novel is a beautifully constructed narrative which aches and vibrates with human emotion, grief and the broken hearts of the world.
‘hell is absence of the people you long for’
The novel begins with a death, but not one caused by Georgia Flu, which is Mandel’s deadly version of Swine Flu or Covid. Arthur Leander, a famous actor, is playing the King in King Lear. In the audience, Jeevan watches as Arthur clutches his chest, almost falls over, and breathes his final breath. Jeevan rushes to the stage to help, little did he know that just a few days later, over 99% of people would be dead.
‘An incomplete List:’
‘No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except wit a generator drowning out half the dialogue, ad only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.’
The novel appears to have several intersecting narratives, focusing on various characters, including Jeevan who is a paramedic and ex journalist, an actress named Kirsten, Arthur Leander’s first wife Miranda and Arthur Leander himself, as well as Arthur’s friend Clark. The time shifts from chapter to chapter, with some chapters set during the outbreak, after the outbreak, and many years prior to the Georgia Flu killing 99% of the planet. Whilst this might sound really disorientating, Mandel constructs the novel seamlessly, stitching together all the pieces of the narratives into something upsetting but beautiful.
‘What was left in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot in the mysteriously named town of St. Deborah by the water, Lake Michigan shining a half mile away.’
Station Eleven is perfect for those who love apocalyptic or dystopian narratives, such as Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 The Road, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or P D James’ The Children of Men. There is so much more that I could tell you about this novel, but instead I will recommend that you just read it. From the moment I picked up Mandel’s novel, the momentum was so incredibly addictive that I did not put it down until I had finished the entire thing. This was my final read of 2022, and I loved every second of it.
‘It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It was gorgeous and claustrophobic. I loved it and I always wanted to escape.’