Set in present-day society, a viral supernova called the Georgia Flu infects and kills nearly 99% of Earth’s population. The survivors are left to construct a new existence from the ruins of a once vibrant and technologically advanced society. Seemingly benign ailments like common colds and skinned knees suddenly become life-threatening episodes without the help of modern medicine. Survivors are instantly propelled backward into primitive existence in which scavenging is the primary mode of survival. Through multiple characters and several different points during the lifespan of the epidemic, Emily St. John Mandel explores Humanity’s ability to adapt and survive when structured society breaks down.
I found the character of Miranda to be particularly memorable. This novel is named for the fictional graphic novel Station Eleven, which she writes for well over a decade. Her relationships with other characters in the book along with her authorship of Station Eleven connects all other storylines in this novel. She is the first wife of Arthur Leander, actor/movie star. Her semi-rags to riches story is intriguing; after 9 years with a boyfriend who grew increasingly jealous as their relationship progressed, her hometown bond with Arthur drove her straight into his arms. St. John Mendel spends many paragraphs illustrating the emotional evolution of Miranda’s character, and that inner spotlight shows us a whole slew of everyday problems that are rendered insignificant by the Georgia Flu pandemic.
I related to her more than the other lead heroin, Kirsten. This is not because my circumstances are even remotely close to hers, but she spends a lot of time talking about her 20’s and mid-thirties. As I am rapidly skating through that age bracket, it seems natural I would become fascinated with how a character with a similar number of years under her belt adapts to and deals with the pandemic.
I noticed the pace slowed towards the middle of the novel. The pace parallelled the narrative of the story (which is appropriate), and what the author had to say during these middle chapters was relevant, but it threw me off a little. I think she pumped the breaks on purpose to force the reader to experience the “hurry up and wait” that would be rampant during the collapse of a society. At first, there would be widespread panic, everyone falling all over themselves to beat their neighbors to survival. Then, survival of the fittest would kick in, but that takes a little time. Obviously, I would have no idea how an epidemic of the scale of Station Eleven would unfold, but this story provided me with a visual image of what seems like an extremely likely scenario, should devastating flu virus ravage the world’s population.
The author included a few lines of dialogue dedicated to discussing the decline of oral health after the pandemic. For me, the story took on a whole new sense of realism because of this small detail. I often think about that sort of thing when I’m watching a Hollywood historical epic (starring Russel Crow, no doubt!). People had some nasty habits in the times before regular dental cleanings and sports physicals. People’s teeth would literally rot out of their heads; their gums would turn brown and peel off of the enamel until every last tooth fell out. I think the fact that most big-budget box office draws omit this very common ailment of the past actually cheapens the quality of the production. Don’t ask me why I feel that way; the only thing I can figure is that it bugs me that they are pandering to our present notions of beauty and hygiene, and they mirror the present rather than the past to keep people buying tickets. Regardless, St. John Medel’s focus on the degradation of the modern human experience kept me reading.
I read Station Eleven per a recommendation from my lovely grandmother. Emily St. John Mandel’s novel is a complex, maze-like story full of characters at various stages of a devastating pandemic of Georgia Flu. The story bounces back and forth in time and constructs a comprehensive view of the pandemic from start to finish. St. John Mendel uses easily digestible chapters to move forward and backward in time via many points of view and diverging storylines; she does this without leaving the reader jarred or confused. She uses a carefully deployed pace to force the reader into the experiences of her main characters, and she does it in an exceedingly memorable way.
I highly recommend this book for your next summer read; I had a great time reading this novel, and I bet I will read it again in the future.
Rating: 3 out of 4 Stars
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