Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

This is one of those books where I'm left wondering just what rating I should give it - the writing is beautiful, so that usually makes me want to give things a higher rating, but on the other hand I'm left thinking 'is that it?' at the end. So, let's split the difference and say 3.5!

 

Station Eleven is one of those novels which is actually science fiction, in that it's about an apocalypse (in this case a worldwide outbreak of a swine flu variant) and what happens afterwards, but as far as I can tell it's been mostly sold as a literary novel instead. Because science fiction, that's for nerds, right? And it's true, there is a strong literary element to Station Eleven as well - the use of the eponymous comic book (created by one character, given away without a second thought by another, cherished by a third and then part of the basis of a prophetic movement led by a fourth). This is, I suppose, the literary version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in that the survivors mostly seem to have a common associate, an actor who literally dies on stage in Toronto while playing King Lear.

 

The story is mostly told from the perspective of Kirsten, who is both a child actor in that same production and, as an adult post-apocalypse, part of a wandering group of actors and musicians in the borderlands of the US and Canada. I like the idea that music and theatre could survive like that, even if the world has almost-literally fallen apart, and the way the author describes it happening feels horribly realistic. From my perspective, it's actually Clark who I end up identifying with more, as he finds himself stranded in an airport in a city he'd never heard of, unable to leave and having to carve out a life for himself and the other people who'd also ended up there by chance.

 

This is another of those books where I'm glad I've read it but can't envisage ever wanting to read it again. And it kind of just stops, no real resolution for the majority of the people we meet - the Travelling Symphony are off to the next town and Clark and his fellow airport inhabitants are just carrying on. But then, in a world where there's nobody out there to come to the rescue, I guess that's as good an end as you're ever going to get?