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Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a literary, level-headed look at life after the apocalypse.  It’s not a comet, nor a zombie plague, but a simple especially-lethal influenza.  Imagine 1918, but far, far worse.  St. John Mandel tells the story of several people, all united by their common acquaintance with one man who dies at the beginning of the novel.  It’s a solid character study with a compelling through-line and expertly-crafted people.  Reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Colson Whitehead’s Year One.  It’s literary apocalypse, and very compelling.

A few thoughts:

  • The novel imagines the apocalypse in much less horrific terms than many of the books that I read, but it’s all the more chilling for that.  The common struggle for survival puts us way back into the dark ages, at least for a time, and people find both the good and the bad in themselves.
  • The mix of present-day and future storylines also works well, giving depth to the future with excursions into the past.  St. John Mandel even works out an effective way to tie the younger characters (born after the flu) into the older storylines.
  • My only complaint is that the novel gets a bit too cleanly tied up in the end.  It’s fair to say that the story is being told in a way designed to wrap up when the narrative demands it, but it feels like there’s an awful lot of coincidence at work in the final shakedown.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dickens did it, after all), but it feels a little too on-the-nose.

Also, I’d like to read the (fictional) comic book from which the novel’s title is taken.

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