Station Eleven is a book that sat hovering in my peripheral vision for a couple of years. I promised myself I would read it in 2017, and I'm really glad I finally did.
The book begins with the end.
The end of actor, Arthur Leander, and the end of the world in the form of a fast-acting flu-like virus. From that point on, the story criss-crosses between the past & future following two main story lines. The first details a small web of people, all of whom are connected via their relationship to Arthur before the global collapse. The second follows a nomad group of Shakespearean performers after the virus has wiped out 99% of Earth's population.
When I first started this book, I was held back by my own expectations. I thought the story would focus more on bloody virus victims or perilous survival tales. For a moment, I thought the book wasn't going to live up to the genre, but then suddenly it was transcending it.
I should've known when I saw so many 5-star reviews that I wasn't about to be treated to a stereotypical, post-apocalyptic story. More than anything, this is a story about the nature of humanity.
Resilient but fragile, beautiful but terrifying; the brightest & the darkest parts of being human are what we are left with when crisis strips away everything in between.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the exploration of different types of destruction.
In the past sequences, we read about a group of people who are suffering in a variety of different ways; their situations have a thread of commonality in that they all could be labeled as "self-destruction." In the present, characters deal with the aftermath of a much larger & unstoppable form of destruction by way of the virus.
Infidelity. Abuse. Smoking. Dishonesty. Cults.
Regardless of time frame, Mandel's characters partake in a what feels like an unavoidable cycle of destruction. The relevance of this cycle is intensified as you become familiar with each character & slowly realize how they are connected, even across the span of decades.
But alongside this theme of breaking down is also the theme of rising from the ashes. The power of intention & how the action of one can ripple outward to touch an unseen number of people.
One of the main characters, Miranda Carroll, authors a comic from which Station Eleven takes its name. The comic has an enduring presence in both the past & present story lines, and is used as a subtle tool of foreshadowing, which I found rather creative.
Another notable quality is the writing style. It's both elegant & succinct. Mandel manages to convey a wide range of emotion & meaning in a relatively short amount of space. The book itself is only 336 pages long, but on every page is a beautifully written sentiment.
This book will suit people who enjoyed The Last of Us or The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. Stories that contain superbly written characters & eloquent conclusions about what it means to survive when it feels like fate has other plans for you.