“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel was recommended to me from some reader friends and then I saw it pop-up on a list of the best fictional novels of this decade. Those sources motivated me to get started reading it right away. I am so glad I did! This novel is a sci-fi, near-future, post-apocalypse “road” novel about life after the end of civilization. I know, the plot sounds familiar and somewhat worn out. Nevertheless, I proceeded to read this book and it had my attention enraptured.
The story weaves an opening tragedy during a theatrical performance of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and the seemingly unconnected characters that were there on day zero of the Georgia Flu pandemic. Spread throughout the world, the novel goes through the fallout of the pandemic including the end of social media, the end of cars and airplanes, the end of cellphones, the end of grocery stores, the end of nations and borders. While it might seem like a far-fetched plot, it is a good reminder to ponder how fragile our current system and existence is in our current state.
“Station Eleven” refers to a vanity comic book, that one of the main characters designs, illustrates and writes and it is a contrasting symbol between the imaginary world she has created and the post-apocalyptic world the novel’s characters inhabit. Themes of the book include what is family, what makes up civilization, what is most important in life when everything else is stripped away, and other similar ideas of meaning. Ms. Mandel’s approach to storytelling creates a strong cohesive web of interconnected lives that tell an overarching description of life after the end of the world. The theme that continually reappears is a quote from Star Trek, “Survival is insufficient,” hinting that the search for meaning in this post-apocalyptic world is all that there is left to rebuild on.