Book Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven has got to be one of my top reads for 2014. It’s a beautifully written book set in a post-apocalyptic United States some years after the pandemic known as the Georgian Flu has wiped out most of humanity as we know it. The story follows a handful of survivors, including a wandering tribe of actors and musicians who make their way between various settlements, risking all sorts of dangers in order to perform works of Shakespeare for what is left of humankind.

The premise alone promises that Station Eleven isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic world and, to be frank, it’s a welcome change from the macho-heavy stories featured in post-apocalyptic movies like Water World or Mad Max. Instead, Emily St John Mandel’s writing bears a strain of sweet, wild melancholia that brings out the humanity in her struggling survivors. Her characters are complex, imperfect beings that we can’t help feeling strongly for, so well does Mandel tell their stories and bring to life their feelings, desires and needs.

An overarching sense of loneliness permeates the book, not just amongst the survivors picking their way through a world where electricity, the Internet and airplanes are a thing of the past, but also in the crowded cities in the pre-pandemic days where Mandel’s characters are cast adrift, their loneliness emphasised even when surrounded by people in a busy city in today’s interconnected, global world.

Station Eleven is a gift, with each page uncovering evocative imagery and haunting poignancies. There is also reference to a Museum of Civilisation, purported to be set up at an airport. As the story unfolds and we learn more about the museum, images keep flitting into my head of the artwork Allegoria Sacra by the Russian art collective AES+F, a hauntingly beautiful work that, like St John’s Station Eleven, is telling in its message about what it truly means to be human.

Allegoria Sacra by AES+F

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