Book Review: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

All my friends have been raving about “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel so I recently read it and soon learned what all the fuss was about.

While technically this is a dystopian story, it’s so much more than that. And even though I usually blog about children’s and young adult books, this is an adult book although older teens would likely enjoy it.

There’s not a heck of a lot of action or adventure in this story even though it’s a post-apocalyptic survival tale. Rather, there’s a lot of reflection and introspection about the foundations of human nature and what’s important to us as a society. When all else is taken away, what’s left but friendship, trust, loyalty, and maybe art and music?

The story crosses time and character and is told from various different characters’ perspectives relating events leading up to and immediately following (for twenty years at least) the outbreak of a virus that wipes out 99% of the world’s human population. Instead of focusing on the horrors of the outbreak, however, St. John Mandel takes us into the minds of her characters in the time leading up to the disaster and the years following with only a few chapters revolving around the outbreak itself. And even those chapters take place outside the main horror zones and are told by people who are relatively safe from, and remote from, the hospitals in the major cities.

The chapters that told the story of the traveling symphony orchestra reminded me a little of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, but on steroids, in the sense that there were so many more characters’ stories interwoven here. The pre-outbreak chapters reflected  very much on the superficialities of aspects of contemporary culture, which then come to take on much greater meaning after the outbreak. There are also poignant reflections on whether it’s easier or more difficult in the post-apocalyptic world to have been one of the people who remembers the time before or someone born to a fresh start with no memories of what life used to be like.

It’s a quiet, yet powerful, book and I’d highly recommend it to all audiences.