“Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after a pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population, this novel is rife with beauty. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. ”
Novels whose premise strips away the world as we know it can be tricky territory. They can be overly dramatic, overwrought, and didactic and riddled with too many existentialist questions about life and death. But station eleven leaves room for contemplation. It’s somehow quiet and elegiac on the outside but lit from within. It is not hurried. Rather steeped in small acts and evocative landscapes.
The novel goes back and forth in time and across the world to follow different characters and we slowly watch who does and who doesn’t survive the Georgie Flu and how their lives change after everything and almost everyone they know is gone. Suddenly, ordinary people have to figure out for themselves what it means to be "human". It is not enough to simply survive. To be fully alive, one needs to make choices that define one's character and belonging in the world. The apocalypse is a kind of tabula rasa.
While I really enjoyed the story and the writing, there was a little bit missing from the imagination of disaster. The plague results in the immediate and total collapse of civilization. But the horror of that is glossed over. Even our lead protagonist repeats the fact that she does not remember the first few years after the flue. Hunger, thirst and exhaustion are alluded to, but there is no penetrating sense of the day-to-day struggle of vulnerable human beings lacking the basic amenities of life. Perhaps this was intentional and somehow worked to make the horror even more bleak and hopeless.
Mandel’s novel, much like the story is a subtle gem. Unfolds, going back and forth in time and space; with a lot of space for the reader to take in the new reality.