Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel, 2014) – Intertwining fates are uncovered as The Travelling Symphony roams Earth after a devastating epidemic.
Station Eleven sifts through forgotten memories, examining what it means to be human.
Of intertwining fates and post-apocalyptic longings, Station Eleven shares the elegance of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and emotional complexity of Stephen King’s The Stand. These similarities do not draw away from its brilliant originality. An elegiac storyteller, Emily St. John Mandel has painted a beautiful picture of the world as we know it, and a hopeful vision of the future.
Her large band of characters begins their journeys at different points. But they are united in that common struggle to find purpose in life that we all seek. Take Arthur Leander, who has committed his whole life to showbiz, only to find that success in fame is not the answer.
He looks to fixing his broken relationships with his family. That with his first wife Miranda remains cold. She has long given up on a love lost. The artist seeks fulfilment in her job and identity in her passion. She creates art for the sake of art, hiding bits of truth in fiction.
Arthur’s continued infidelity costs him his second wife Elizabeth and only son Tyler. The pair moves to Jerusalem, putting distance between them, both physical and emotional. The only kindred connection he finds is in young actress Kirsten, a reminder of his estranged child. He gifts her Miranda’s graphic novel, known as Station Eleven.
He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret. He had done some things he wasn’t proud of.
Their acquaintance is cut short when a heart attack takes Arthur’s life on stage. An audience member, Jeevan Chaudhary tries to save the aged actor to no avail. The tragedy marks a turning point for Jeevan, who sets upon making a difference as a paramedic, leaving behind his job as a paparazzo.
Then, the Georgian flu strikes. Dreams come to a standstill, or take on new forms for the fortunate ones. A reset on Earth takes away the inessentials, forcing survivors to introspect what truly matters in life. The resultant prose is quietly contemplative.
I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.
Kirsten is one of few who lives, holding onto Station Eleven, whose author remains a stranger to her. Little does she realise how much she has in common with Miranda, as she travels with the Symphony band that keeps civilisation alive through art for performance’s sake.
Each iteration of a beloved play points to the cultural significance of history that we will woe to forget. Within the Symphony is a mixed bag, brought together by their passion for music and theatre. It is art that connects the individuals on their separate paths. All of which arrive at the same destination, where they learn what it means to be human.
The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?
Through this insightful story about humanity, we see everyday miracles taken for granted. We miss the planes, electricity, and the interconnectivity brought on by technology. And most of all, we notice the clandestine connections we all have with each other, born out of what had once been nothing.
Describing Station Eleven as a post-apocalyptic novel would be misleading. It is less about the broken world, than its inhabitants who seeks reparation. Its intricate web of relationships conveys such profound themes that leave behind powerful reflections.
In this gorgeously written story, no words ring truer than the lifted quote that Kirsten lives by. Survival is insufficient, for it is through empathy and passion that we truly live.