There are no words to describe how beautiful I found this book. I was tempted to list a whole bunch of synonyms until one stuck but I found none that did it complete justice. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is magical, heartbreaking, beautiful, eerie, magnificent and just an utter delight to read.
At the end of the eBook version of this book is a list of stunning quotes from a vast array of reviewers. The Independent summed up this book perfectly when it said that this was “the most captivating and thought provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read.” Yes, that was exactly how I felt when I finished this book.
It had me mesmerised through the entire story and I felt utterly empty when I clicked to the last page. Stunned, my heart full to the brim and my eyes still drying from the tears that had just been pouring out of them. I was tempted to flick back to the beginning and start all over again.
Station Eleven is captured between two moments in time: the one we know now and one set in a world I hope to never see; a world wreaked and worn by a disease so powerful that it left only small bands of survivors in its wake. The story effortlessly flips between the pre-flu era and the haggard post-flu realm.
It centres on the character of Arthur Leander, an actor in his mid-fifties who has a heart attack on stage and dies in the first chapter. He becomes the glue between all of the story threads in this book. You hear from his ex-wives, the child who worked at the theatre who he deeply inspired and the doctor who attended him with his heart attack. The stories are all separate and yet, not. That’s part of the magic of this book. I discovered more and more as each tale unfolded and unwove.
The post world is one of small settlements, roving bands and a Travelling Symphony who travel around the flu-ravaged US, performing Shakespearean plays and great orchestral pieces for the enjoyment of the survivors. The world is starting anew and the Symphony is a beautiful part of that rebuild.
Of course, the world isn’t all beautiful renditions of Romeo & Juliet or pieces by Mozart, there is a darkness as well. The corrupt and the power-hungry are widespread and gaining support and the members of the Symphony don’t know what they’re heading into.
What I loved most about Station Eleven were the beautiful insights that occurred when the survivors reminisced about the world that was. One of these insights really made me think; it was a comment about how in the world that was you were always surrounded by people. They were everywhere but you never knew what they all did, nor did you ever ask. When all those people are gone, you realise that they were the people who kept the supermarkets stocked and filled the petrol station containers. With them gone, you realise just how little you knew of those people, their lives and their families but also how important their role actually was.
This little piece of wisdom really hit home for me. When I am out during a work week day, I always wonder why there are so many people out and about and always ask myself “what do you do?” I also notice that when there are fewer people around, how eerie and empty the streets seem. I can’t even fathom how lonely the post-Georgian flu world would be. I don’t think I would do well on my own. I would hope that if it were to occur (and I was to survive), that I would find a crew of companions like The Symphony to travel with (even though my musical talents only extend to singing in the car and my acting skill is next to poor).
Station Eleven is a book full of hope, fear, moments of terror and moments of pure beauty. It is elegantly written, magnificently thought out and, like I said earlier, an utter delight to read. Once I finished it, I immediately bought a copy to give to a friend as this is a book that needs to be shared.