Station 11 – Emily St. John Mandel
Before I started writing this post I jumped onto Twitter to check I had copied down the author’s name correctly. My search pulled nothing but fabulous reviews for Station 11. It is easy to see why, the book looks amazing with a striking cover and a monochrome meets shocking pink colour scheme. It will cry out to you from the shelf.
The premise is an instant draw too (and worryingly topical). The people of Earth have fallen foul of a virus that has wiped out the majority of humankind. The survivors are now living in a world devoid of all the comforts we take for granted and with the breakdown of society everyone fears for their life in a lawless wilderness. For those with a knowledge of video games I kept picturing Bethesda’s Fallout 3 as I read through Station 11.
Emily St. John Mandel created a post apocalypse world that I wanted to read about. She uses a travelling theatre company as the main focus in her post virus world. The troop travels back and forward over a familiar route, they find safety in numbers, have rules to keep them safe and are welcomed in towns and settlements as they bring the only entertainment that some see from year to year. The descriptive narrative is exquisite and the reader gets a real sense of how tough the survivors are finding life. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where older characters would recall events and items from before the Event and try to explain forgotten things to a younger generation.
The central character to the novel is an actor. During the course of Station 11 we learn of his rise from anonymity to stardom then we see him start to fade. The book opens with his death (on stage) which occurs just before the virus begins its deadly journey around the globe. The characters in Station 11 weave in and out of the story but many have crossed paths with the actor in some way and their subsequent interactions are engaging plotlines.
And here is my problem with Station 11. The key character dies before the virus wipes out almost everyone on Earth. Therefore a significant part of the book is set pre-apocalypse and does not feature the amazing ravaged world that Emily St. John Mandel creates.
So plus points: Beautiful book, great premise, the sections after the virus are compelling. The Museum of Civilisation.
But…I wanted more of the survivors and less of the actor. It was not the book I was expecting and I just could not get past that – I grudged the pre-virus sections as the post viral world was more interesting to me. I can see why there is such love for this book but it was not for me.