Station Eleven, from Emily St. John Mandel, has dominated the bestseller list from its release in early September. In her fourth novel, Mandel tells the story of the Georgia Flu. Within weeks, most of the population has passed because of the rapid spread of the virus.
The book begins with Arthur Leander, a stage actor in the play King Lear. Kirsten, an actress in the play, witnesses the tragic demise of Arthur in the Toronto theater. Mandel switches between the past and the future in the book, from 8-year-old Kirsten to the world 20 years after the pandemic. The world is no longer filled with essentials of today such as electricity, the Internet, gas, or running water. Kirsten is now part of the Traveling Symphony, a band of musicians and actors who travel from town to town in Michigan. Readers learn about Arthur’s past and Kirsten’s life-long fascination with it.
As much as the novel is a post-apocalyptic story, it maintains a sense of mystery. Unanswered questions about character motives drive the plot and encourage readers to keep turning the pages. Mandel is able to switch back and forth between pre and post-Georgian Flu effortlessly.
The basic premise of the book is synonymous to the growing fear of violence and disaster in today’s society. Many worry about contracting Ebola or terrorism emerging in the United States. Some even obsess over a zombie apocalypse from popular shows like The Walking Dead. Mandel’s goal was to describe a wasteland for humanity complete with characters who all have their own quirks.
The novel makes readers think about the little things in life. When most of the human race is killed, the essentials of everyday life disappear. Mandel once talks about pigeons and their luminescent necks.
Station Eleven will continue to sell in bookstores. It might even make a good Christmas present! If post-apocalyptic novels peak your interest, definitely check out Station Eleven from the library or purchase it from a local bookstore.