Sometimes the best books are the ones you pick up on a whim. This was absolutely the case with Station Eleven.
If civilization was lost, what would you preserve?
And how far would you go to protect it?
My eye was initially drawn to it by the bright orange font, aside from which the cover was pretty uninspiring. I hadn’t heard anything about it before – maybe one quick mention in a magazine – and I’d never previously encountered the author. I wasn’t about to go in blind though, so I read the blurb, and imagine my surprise when the first thing I read was related to William Shakespeare, of whom I am a self-confessed fangirl! From that moment on my excitement only grew. I learned that the story was set in a post-apocalyptic world and chronicled the collapse of society and the efforts of those who endured it to survive. I bought it, read it, and have not stopped talking about it since.
Station Eleven is, in a nutshell, a story about people.
Sometimes in science fiction, characters can be insignificant devices through which the plot develops, but this story wouldn’t be as strong as it is without its characters. We meet a vast array of individuals, several of whom offer their perspective of events in chapters set both before and after a devastating flu pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Their lives are far more interconnected than you may initially expect, making it a magnificent exploration of their relationships with one another and what they must do to survive in a world where an infected cut could kill you. And their survival isn’t glamorised. People are missing teeth and everyone gets sweaty.
Yet Station Eleven isn’t merely a story about how to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, but about how far people are willing to go to ensure that humanity’s legacy lives on.
Because survival is insufficient.
In addition to its layered and multi-faceted characters, Station Eleven is beautifully written. It has just enough world-building to satisfy the reader but not so much that it overwhelms you or becomes unnecessary. The dialogue feels natural, as do the glimpses we get of a character’s inner thoughts and feelings. There’s no melodrama here; no clichéd scenes or reactions. In fact the whole thing has a shocking amount of realism to it. When I imagine the fall of society, this is how I picture it. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a post-apocalyptic novel, more like a richly evocative, thought-provoking read which leaves you examining all of the things we take for granted and what it is that motivates people to seek out fame etc.
First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.
Also, I was glad to find that romance was far from central to this story. True, you have people in relationships, people who are repeatedly unlucky in love, people with babies, women who don’t need a man, homosexual relationships: the whole lot! But it doesn’t define the novel and it certainly doesn’t define the character. Instead, Mandel gives us a vividly stunning depiction of life in her ‘post-collapse’ world. It is a story that is so compelling, so gripping and atmospheric that I found it nearly impossible to put down. If you like books that make you think then do yourself a favour and pick this up. I cannot recommend it enough.
For me personally, nothing!
However, I can see little things that might not appeal to others. The lack of action sequences, for example, might decrease some readers’ enjoyment of the book. They are in there, just not in every chapter (the book really doesn’t need it, but for those who like adventure it may not be what you’d expect). The writing style could also be too ‘flowery’ for some, but again that all depends on your personal tastes. The chapters do cut back and forth between time periods and characters, so if you’re one of those people that struggles to juggle multiple points of view then be warned. And if you really don’t like Shakespeare then you may find the beginning tougher to get in to than I did.
This is by far the best standalone novel I’ve read in a long, long time. It was poignant and elegant and I LOVED it! The pacing is consistently steady and I like the effect this had on me whilst I was reading. The story doesn’t feel like it follows a typical beginning, middle and end structure: it could keep on going on and on if you let it. The story doesn’t start and finish with the first and last page, it has a past and it has a future. Station Eleven has reminded me why I love fiction so much and for that I give it five out of five stars.