Station Eleven

Book Review: Station Eleven. 3/5 Stars.Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.

One Snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while. It has glowing reviews and the premise is spot on for what i love to read. I was so happy to finally pick it up and get reading. As happens far too often with books the general population seem to rave over, though… i was left a little disappointed.

There was plenty i loved about the book. I love the setting–20 years after an apocalyptic virus wipes out most of humanity. So often books deal with the very immediate fall out and/or 100 or more years after an apocalypse. It was interesting to see this 20-year stage. Long enough that there are children and young adults who remember nothing of “before”, there are adults who remember very little and have adapted easily, and there is an older generation who had jobs and families and remember everything of a life “before”. It’s the stage where things have changed, but the ‘old’ world is still very much remembered.

I loved (most of) the characters. My favourites were Miranda, Clark, and Frank. I loved Frank from the moment we met him, when his brother shows up on his doorstep with seven overflowing trollies of food and a stricken expression and Frank’s only comment is, “I see you went shopping.” Clark was slower to make an impression on me, as he is quite a side character for most of the book, but the more he showed up and the more i learnt about him, the more i liked him. Miranda was wonderful from the get-go. A strong, but wonderfully lovely character. She was kind and thoughtful, but never at the expense of herself. Her mantra–“I repent nothing”–are words i might start saying to myself more often.

I have two main issues with the book, and they are both simply personal preference. The first is the dual focus between the time lines–one 20 years post-apocalypse, one stretching back many years in the life of famous actor Arthur Leander. And the crux of my issue with this is that… i gave exactly zero hoots about Arthur Leander. The book is, on the whole, a character-driven narrative, and generally they just aren’t my favourite kinds of stories. I didn’t care about Arthur. I didn’t care about his life, his career, his multiple marriages and divorces. That his life served as a tenuous and improbable link between various characters in the post-apocalyptic time line was irrelevant to me. His life and its inclusion in the story felt simply like a device for that link and little more.

The second main issue i had was that… not a lot really happens? This typically goes hand-in-hand with character-driven stories–the focus is on the people and their feelings and experiences and growth, rather than on any circumstances or events. And like, okay, an apocalypse happens, but for the post-apocalyptic time line, there is not much tension or eventfulness. What there is, unsurprisingly, revolves around an individual–it is this character and his links to the past, to Arthur, and the other characters, that are the focus. And for me, that’s not enough. The story just never feels like it really gets going, but that’s because–for me–there just isn’t enough story.

The other niggle i can’t really shake is that the book is coming from quite an entitled place. The characters are rich actors, successful business people, theatre goers, classical musicians, and Shakespearean thespians. It didn’t sit quite right with me, and honestly didn’t enamour me to their post-apocalyptic plight. But honestly, with a name like St. John Mandel, a privileged upbringing on a remote Canadian island, and studying at a dance theatre… it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s writing what she knows.

I enjoyed the concept and ideas in the book, and found the emotive use of language quite lovely–the book is infinitely quotable. But nice one-liners and being meaningful in isolation doesn’t a brilliant book make–it takes more to impress me. What i enjoyed here i enjoyed a lot, but i won’t be rushing out to read more of this author’s books.

About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

8 Responses to Station Eleven

  1. Zezee says:

    Oh that sucks that you didn’t like this much. The hype got to me too when I read it and I felt similar to you soon after completing it. But the more I thought about the book, the more it grew on me until it became a favorite. I loved the writing and how it makes the real world seem a little magical.

    • Wendleberry says:

      It’s definitely one that’s left me room to think afterwards, and there is a lot to love about the book. It’s just the things that don’t work for me are big things that put me off. And the hype machine most definitely doesn’t help in cases like this.

  2. @lynnsbooks says:

    That’s a shame. I’m a sucker for character read novels so this worked well for me – however, not caring for the characters is definitely a turn off so I can completely understand where you’re coming from..
    Lynn 😀

    • Wendleberry says:

      Yeah, i don’t mind character-driven stories when i care about the characters, or when their character is actually relevant to the book. I was just way more interested in this post-apocalyptic world than in some self-centred actor’s life.

  3. sjhigbee says:

    I haven’t read this one yet – but I know I really should…

  4. Pingback: 2018 End of Year Book Survey | Marvel At Words

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