BWW Review: STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
"First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen, that's not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered."
~Emily St. John Mandel, STATION ELEVEN
There is so much to say about STATION ELEVEN, and so little that can be shared without revealing spoilers. STATION ELEVEN is a book that unfurls slowly, one that introduces you to a multitude of characters and slips all of the puzzle pieces together later. It's interesting that Erin Morgenstern blurbed the novel because in her own debut, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, she also has a way of unfurling the story to move it along. Slowly, softly, but with great impact.
As the novel opens, we are introduced to an actor named Arthur Leander. Within a couple of pages, Arthur will die onstage from a heart attack at the end of King Lear. The little girl watching him from the wings, Kirsten Raymonde, will survive the oncoming plague and grow up working with a traveling theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony. A man in the audience, Jeevan Chaudhary, will attempt to resuscitate the fallen actor, and readers will later learn of his connections to Arthur. Arthur's best friend, Clark Thompson, is asked to inform Arthur's ex-wives and his small son of his passing because he has no one close in his life. All of these people are introduced briefly; their lives will become more important later as the novel progresses and we see some of their POVs. Through many of these various characters, we see the world fall, people succumb to illness and die, people carving out a new existence. Despite his brief introduction, Arthur Leander connects so much of this novel in ways that most characters will never know or understanding. Reading the individual fragments as the author weaves the past and present together make the reader privy to all this knowledge and more.
Right after Arthur Leander dies, 99% of the world dies. The Georgia Flu is brought to the US from a Russian flight of passengers. Within 48 hours of being exposed to the Flu, the exposed will contract it and die. Only a lucky 1% of the population will survive this international disaster. The majority of STATION ELEVEN either takes place twenty years after the collapse of civilization, or in the period leading up to the collapse. The focus isn't on anarchy and survival, as in novels such as THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. It is about surviving and building a new world, of living and recovering. A quote from Star Trek is emblazoned on the Traveling Symphony's caravan: "Survival is insufficient." This quote encompasses so much of the way humanity is now.