After being left in the worst reading slump I’ve dealt with for a while, I went to a local independent book shop and asked for recommendations. The clerk suggested I pick up Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, especially since I expressed my interest in her upcoming release, The Glass Hotel. I’ve got to say, I’m glad I listened to the clerk.
Station Eleven is a dystopian novel about what happens to the past – to things like music and books and Shakespeare – when the world ends. It follows several characters across time, jumping back and forth to the before and the after of the virus that wiped out most of the world, and how they are living on in the new world.
Given all of the fear surrounding COVID-19, I can’t help but laugh at my timing in reading this book. But this isn’t The Stand or The Walking Dead or even The Day After Tomorrow. This is honestly a story about humanity as it readjusts and relearns how to survive along with how the people keep going when simply surviving isn’t enough. It is a book about art and community and sharing glimmers of something else in a world so isolated and cut off from everything. It’s about the dedication of preserving the past while also not allowing each other to wallow or dwell on the things that were lost, keeping the past alive as a means of education.
I really enjoyed that this wasn’t a hopeless, depressing novel of the end of the world. There was hope as well as fear, but the fear didn’t reach absurd levels. There is a cult that causes several issues throughout the novel, a scary group of doomsday religious zealots, and I had concerns about several kinds of assault dominating the text, but am pleased to say that didn’t happen. The Prophet and his group were enough to create tension and anxiety, but Mandel clearly knew where the line was. The group furthered the plot without creating unnecessary violence.
Around the three-quarter mark, things slowed down more than I would have liked but I’m really glad I pushed through it. It’s a book I would definitely recommend if you’re in the mood for a more literary dystopian novel.