Monday, February 9, 2015
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
If you like: Shakespeare * cults * the end of the world
Station Eleven is the story of the Georgia Flu and the way the world changes in its wake. It takes place before, during, and after the outbreak of a world ending pandemic. The Flu strikes suddenly, kills quickly, and leaves only a small percentage of the population as survivors. Station Eleven is a portrait of a handful of those survivors. The fleeting moments that make up each life have layers of interaction that cannot be pieced together from inside. These moments make up the memories that guide each person as they continue their life forward. The things people cling to when everything else is gone shape their new lives, and the new world.
The survivors of the Flu are broken into many categories, and each has a strong influence over their actions. The first division is age: those who were adults before the Flu, those who were children during the outbreak, and those who were born after the Flu. Each of these groups behaves dramatically differently. Those who lived as adults in the pre-Flu world have the most difficult time adapting. They know just how much they are missing in a world without electricity, medicine, or safety. These adults are also fractured into a few groups. There are those who were never able to come to terms with all they have lost. There are also those who realized the world would change and quickly took steps towards survival. The final group is a blend who cling to the memory of their former life, but know that the world has changed and they must with it. Those who were children during the outbreak are the most adaptable. They remember some of the conveniences of the modern world, but hadn’t become so dependent on them that they struggle to survive in the new world. They hold a picture of what could have been in their minds, but are not unhappy with what life is. Those who never lived before the Flu have very different world view. They have never known a world where travel is safe, where you can see the world, or where a light switch works. They are mostly indifferent to the marvels that are left behind. They have no way to know what life was like, and thus they do not mourn all they are missing.
The segments of Station Eleven that take place before, during, and after, are intermixed throughout the story. This allows moments that would seem otherwise insignificant to be recognized for their impact on the future. The interweaving threads of each character’s actions in the world before are knotted together to inform the new world that they have come to live in. Interactions that would hardly be meaningful on any other day become hugely significant on the final days of modern civilization. A trip that would normally be over within a few days can leave you stranded in a strange land. Any item you have with you at the end becomes a sacred relic of the old world. Gathering items from the past becomes ritual for some. Tracing the history of these items through each phase of the pandemic is one of the best parts of Station Eleven. The story sets out several people and several items. Their journey through time as they change hands, and the paths of the people intersect is fascinating. Trivial decisions take on significant weight in the days that come to pass. In the end, people cling to new hopes and fashion a new set of beliefs in the post-Flu world, and the force of a few people and objects guide the growth of the new communities that emerge. Over time, the world is wholly new, and yet centered in the memory of the past.
If you never stop searching for a brighter future, read Station Eleven.
Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven: A novel. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.