What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still beauty.
At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Arthur Leander is mid-way through a performance of King Lear before he clutches his chest and fulls to the floor. Hours later, the entire world is gripped in fear as an unstoppable, and fatal, epidemic rapidly begins to wipe out 99% of life on earth.
These two contrasting events lie at the heart of Emily St.John Mandel’s wholly unique take on a post-apocalyptic world, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Nowadays you can’t walk into a bookshop or turn on your television without being met by some work on the post-apocalyptic genre, whether it be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or AMC’s The Walking Dead, but this book truly takes the genre in an entirely different direction. Of course, you will still find the sprawling highways littered with abandoned cars, gangs hunting down the innocent, with a seemingly endless supply of ammo, and scavengers picking through empty houses like they’re candy stores, but you don’t often find travelling players performing Shakespeare, as you will here, and it’s this attention to beauty which makes Station Eleven unique.
Running throughout the entire book is the idea that “survival is insufficient”, and really this is what makes it so enjoyable; instead of going in-depth into the post-epidemic world she has created, Mandel chooses instead to focus on the characters of the piece, and highlight the small things which make life great.
The pre-epidemic flashbacks, albeit sometimes rather jarringly placed throughout the story, capture moments of seemingly little importance, but are moments which resonate with the characters in this new world, where they attempt to cling to the old, as they face an unsure future.
At first hand, this book may seem like your average end-of-the-world novel, but really it serves as a reminder that life is short, worth treasuring, and something which we mustn’t take for granted.