A zombieless post apocalypse novel? Heavy risk…but the priiize.
|Emily St. John Mandel in 2014|
Post apocalypse novels without zombies (or similar creatures) are usually akin to donuts without a warm centre filled with sugary jam. Sure, you could make it work, but you have to hit the mark just right for the jam to be superfluous. Thankfully, Station Eleven does well without the zombies, and manages to make a compelling, realistic vision of a breakdown of civilization.
Humanity has been devastated by the Georgia Flu, which has killed more than 99 percent of us. The survivors are either bandits or holed up in small communities where former truck stops or supermarkets are located. If you’ve ever played Borderlands, this is exactly the sort of feeling I get from reading the book.
Station Eleven focuses on Arthur Leander, an actor who made it big in Hollywood and then threw it all away on whims and frivolity. His death in the first chapter as he is acting in an adaptation of King Lear sets the scene for the rest of the novel, as he is the fulcrum about which all the other characters’ lives revolve.
There’s Kirsten, who first meets Arthur during King Lear, and receives comic books penned and drawn by an unknown author (titled Station Eleven). There’s Clark, Arthur’s best and oldest friend, who has to tell Arthur’s family of his passing. And there’s Jeevan, the guy who tries to save Arthur’s life at the very end. All of these people survived the Georgia Flu, whether by luck or immunity.
Station Eleven flits between the past and present. As Kirsten’s life story, set some twenty years after the flu initially hits, is told, so too is a small amount of Arthur’s tale is revealed, and the effects his actions have on the people around him.
Station Eleven is a pretty depressing book at the first. The world is mostly empty, save for the desperate, the lucky or the insane. Kirsten survived the fall of civilization and joins a travelling symphony who performs Shakespeare and orchestral music for people. Everyone is armed to the teeth, and killing for survival is seen as routine. As the world decays, people still remember the past, how things used to be, and the Symphony is a part of this remembrance. Most lost their lives, their families and friends, and quickly realised that all their worldly possessions have been rendered useless overnight.
There is hope on the horizon. As you near the end of the book, it becomes clear that not everything is broken, and that the most important things of all; human kindness, and a sense of shared sacrifice in community is still in abundance, all over the world.
Station Eleven is not the kind of book I expected. But it is a masterfully crafted book. Yes, the story is sad, the world is stark and devoid of people, which makes it kind of depressing. But what is lost, is often regained over time, as long as there’s someone who believes it’s worth it.
Sad, but beautiful. Which is completely the opposite of any Shakespearean play. Those are awful.
Read this if you…
Are sick of zombies in your apocalypse.
Don’t read this if you…
Want a happy book filled with sunshine and lollipops.