by Emily St John Mandel
There are plenty of post apocalypse books out there at the moment, but this one definitely stands out from the crowd. For one thing, there is not a zombie in sight!
Station Eleven is a well-constructed view of a world devastated by a deadly virus that strikes down almost the whole population. Those who survive the collapse come together in new settlements far from the old cities that are left in ruins.
The book follows the lives of several characters whose lives are linked by an Actor who dies on stage on the night the virus arrives in North America. Among those who share the stage with him that night is young Kirsten, a child actress who becomes the main focus of the book.
Twenty years later, Kirsten is part of the Travelling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors, travelling the area around the American/Canadian border performing Shakespeare and classical music to the settlements that have sprung up in the region.
With flashbacks to events leading up to and immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic, we learn of the events that link Kirsten and several other characters to each other and the now dead actor Arthur Leander. It is a well-paced story that had me gripped from the very beginning. Jumping from past to present can sometimes be confusing and often distracting from the narrative, but in this case it just adds to the overall effectiveness of the story.
I had originally thought this was going to be a science fiction book, but it is not. Station Eleven is a story about survival and hope. There are well researched passages and Emily St John Mandel goes to great lengths to be as realistic as possible, particularly with regards to things such as the shelf life of fuel, but it is the characters that really drive the plot.
The Travelling Symphony’s motto is “Survival is insufficient”, taken from Star Trek: Voyager. For those travelling with the Symphony, that is definitely the case as they keep their love of music and literature alive during the collapse of the world as they knew it. On the back of the book the publishers ask the question: what would you preserve if civilization was lost? Would it be music, art, books, and science? An interesting thought.
I found Station Eleven to be a captivating read. It has great characters and a simple but effective plot. It as a refreshing change from the majority of post apocalypse books out there at the moment, and reminds me a little of the 1970s TV drama “Survivors”.