Station Eleven (2014) – Emily St.John Mandel

Title:Station Eleven
Author:Emily St.John Mandel
Publisher/s:Picador/Pan Macmillan
Date publishers:2014
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for”

Set twenty years after the Georgian Flu killed ninety-nine percent of the world’s population, Station Eleven is the interlinked stories of those that survived, those that are torn apart and those that will spend the rest of their lifetimes trying to go back…

Before the world changed forever Arthur Leander was a stage actor performing King Lear for, what would be, the last time. This particular man, who loved Shakespeare, would suffer a heart attack on stage, and even though his death will have no connection to the deadly flu that would wipe out the planet almost less than two weeks later, it will still be the defining moment for a string of seemingly unconnected characters. It will be the moment that will quietly connect a group of people who find themselves walking the devastated roads of a very different world twenty years later, and it will be the moment that will inevitably help them find each other – in the end.

Kirsten Raymonde was only eight years old when the world ended. The night of Arthur Leander’s death she was sitting on stage as a child actor, and remembers very little of that night other than a comic book the actor gave to her before he went up on stage. For twenty years Kirsten has been carrying the strange and beautiful drawings of Station Eleven with her as a member of The Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians that had been moving from settlement to settlement through an apocalyptic world for a little over fifteen years, five years after the ‘collapse’. In the comic books Dr Eleven is a physicist who lives on a space station that resembles a small planet made up of “deep blue seas and rocky islands linked by bridges, orange and crimson skies with two moons on the horizon”. These books are the only tangible link Kirsten has with the past, and she treasures them as the other actors in the Symphony treasure the works of the Olde English Bard.

Jeevan Chaudhary was at the theater the night Arthur Leander died. In fact he jumped on stage and performed CPR and remembers seeing one of the child actors in the corner of his eye, forgotten on stage as people rushed around in panic. Twenty years ago Jeevan figured out the world was ending from the safety of his brother’s apartment, and decided to hit the road in search of something he couldn’t quite figure out, but would know when he found it.

Miranda Carroll was once married to Arthur. It didn’t last very long but in that time she experienced both fame and infamy, and then completed the work on her greatest accomplishment, two issues of Station Eleven, the comic book that no one would remember. Before meeting Arthur Miranda was content to spend hours as a secretary for a shipping company bent over her sketch books – solitary hours she would revisit and relish when she was married to the actor whose celebrity forced Miranda to become invisible. Weeks after the Georgian Flu has swept the world Miranda receives a call from Arthur’s childhood friend Clark Thompson notifying her of her ex-husband’s death.

Clark Thompson was in a plane on his way to Arthur’s funeral when the craft made an unplanned stop at a small airport in Severn City, Michigan. Twenty years later and Clark and a community of survivors and stragglers have made the airport their home. Over time the inhabitants have created a museum of ‘lost treasures’ and the remnants of civilization, of which Clark is the curator. In glass cases sit mobile phones, laptop computers, credit cards and an assortment of magazines and newspapers. On the rough roads of this new world the museum has become a sort of myth-like destination upon which travelers cross dangerous miles to arrive at. On these dangerous roads a man calling himself The Prophet and a group of his ‘followers’ are threatening anyone who decide not to join their ‘cult’ , and soon enough even members of the Symphony are starting to disappear.

“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty”

What links the creator of a comic book, a long since deceased Thespian, a paramedic and a young woman who barely remembers what life was like before the collapse? In this refreshingly unique dystopian novel the past can be found not only in tangible things, but in the memories of those that survived. In those that survived what remains is not technology, but poetry and art and a forgotten comic book about a fictional world. What creates a new world amidst the starkness and the violence is the connections we make with one another, and what keeps us human is our determination to survive.

An apocalyptic tale with zero zombies, plenty of Shakespeare and a reminder of what is truly immortal.

Read my review of The Glass Hotel

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