This is a post-apocalyptic book with its feet firmly in the adult market. There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about the Dystopian tropes in books and film for the Young Adult market (Hunger Games, Divergent et al) but nervousness about the human condition and our poor choices are not confined to the young.
In the wake of SARS, Swine Flu and the current devastating outbreak of Ebola Virus spreading through Africa, it no longer seems quite so implausible that a serious Flu outbreak can bring the world to a halt.
Station Eleven does not concern itself with the logistics of global death. Instead the book focuses on a handful of central characters and how they adapt and survive. We know most people have died, and that pockets of people remain living a basic agrarian life. This story focuses on pockets in Canada and the USA.
This is not a book I would select unprompted at a bookshop. Post-apocalyptic/pandemic books are not my choice of genre, but I'm awfully glad I read this one.
Canadian St. John Mandel deftly weaves her narrative between pre- and post-apocalypse worlds. It's a polished piece of work as she scatters her jigsaw of characters through timezones and locations and gently goes about pulling the pieces back together.
I found myself engaged in the welfare of the characters after the first third of the book. I must confess it took a while to get my head around the jumping timezones. Ultimately, I found myself hunting for the connections, the clues, the link between characters ... like any great suspense novel!
St. John Mandel has been long-listed for the US National Book award and I wouldn't be surprised if she romps it in.
There are big themes of nostalgia, how art sustains the soul, connectivity between both people and technology and the premise that hope cannot be killed. The tagline is right: Survival is Insufficient.
Here's the blurb from the publishers. Give Station Eleven a go, and stick at it, because it really is a great example of well-executed characters, narratives and tropes spun across different times.
The Blurb from Picador
DAY ONE - The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb. News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.
WEEK TWO - Civilization has crumbled.
YEAR TWENTY - A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe. But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.
Author website, essays and insights
Review: The Guardian, UK
Review: New York Times, Sunday
I was sent a copy of Station Eleven from Picador, but all opinions are my own.