Station Eleven

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel I picked up Station Eleven because I saw a rec for it on the Internet somewhere. Figured hey, this looks cool, let’s see if she can manage it. Because a lot of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is, quite frankly, utter shit.

I’m not saying every book has to be candidate for the Nobel for Literature, but Jesus, people, how about a basic command of the English language? How these things made it past an editor is quite frankly, beyond me.

So yeah, I’m a little leery of post-apocalyptic fiction, because there are a lot of people pissing in my splash pool.

Emily St. John Mandel is not one of those people.

The start of the novel is quite restful, as such things go. An actor dies onstage while playing King Lear. Nothing that special, people die all the time, and he was fairly old. You know it’s an apocalyptic novel because it’s right there on the back of the book, but you wouldn’t say so from the first part…until the last paragraph.

“In the lobby, the people gathered at the bar clinked their glasses together. “To Arthur,” they said. They drank for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways in the storm.

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.”

And bam! There’s your apocalypse, right in the face!

It’s that kind of sneak-up-on you apocalypse that Mandel does, in my opinion, extremely well. The entire book reads like poetry, or like drinking a particularly fine wine. The language is exquisite, drawing the new post-apocalyptic world in such detail that you can feel the breathless heat of the summer, feel the sweat on your own skin.

The main plot wasn’t particularly impressive and frankly, struck me as a little pointless, and at some points things happen for no apparent reason which make no actual sense, but the writing was so smooth that by the time I realised that, we were long past it.

The concept, however, that is pure genius. So many people paint the post-apocalyptic world in shades of gray (or in the case of Max Max I suppose, shades of rust?). This idea, these people, who go around performing the Bard in the tiny villages that are all that remain of human civilization because “survival is insufficient”? They grabbed my soul the moment I met them, and didn’t let go. They’re alive, and the world they move in is alive, and you know at the end that everything is going to be, more or less, give or take, and taking one thing with another, going to be all right.

The villain was extremely annoying, probably because the reader is clearly expected to figure out who he is in his first scene, which makes the main character seem a bit of a dolt for not figuring it out. Besides which, he’s a pretty flat, boring character, even in the scenes where his whole history is explained.

Aside from him, though, I loved the characters. Vivid and real, each character was an individual, whole and complete, and the relationships between the different people in the Symphony are vividly drawn. I was actually sad when I was later informed that a character who had appeared for maybe ten pages and spoken maybe twelve times was dead, and that takes some doing.

A lovely book, which I would highly recommend to anyone.