Book Review: Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just today on NPR i heard this book named on a list of finalists for the 2014 National Book Award. I’m not usually on the cutting edge of literature, but this book was so highly praised and sounded so interesting that i decided to jump on it. All i really knew was that it was set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Say no more.

There are a lot of flashback-type scenes, so big chunks of the book do not actually take place in that post-apocalyptic world. In fact they describe pretty mundane lives, and that served as a contrast to the very unusual lives that the characters who survive the crisis live afterward. The book made me appreciate a lot of everyday things even more than i already did, and believe me i’ve always been a huge fan of my hot showers and readily-available food. It also shows that even in the absence of all the technologies and conveniences that we’ve built our lives around, the same interpersonal issues remain, and actually become even more important.

Not a whole lot actually happens in this book. It’s more about thoughts and feelings than action and dialog. I described it early on as The Walking Dead minus zombies, but it’s also that minus all the talking (my god, the talking) and the gore (mostly). It’s surprisingly creepy even without all those things, though. But mainly it’s a tale of a few people who went through a pandemic and how their lives were tightly connected even though they didn’t realize it. Contemporary literary fiction is very often about intertwined lives, i’m noticing. We affect each other’s lives both directly and indirectly.

I liked the writing style. The pretty little sentence fragments that illuminated meaningful things. I liked the rather unflattering portrayal of religion’s role in humanity as it hung by a thread (sorry). I enjoyed the details about how civilization just crumbled without its workforce to support it and how the characters dealt with that. I liked the characters even though they weren’t super-admirable all the time. And i liked that there was a lot of misery and suffering but also just a little bit of enjoyment and hope.

And, by the way, i’m proud of myself for reading this book while Ebola was rearing its head in America and not even freaking out about it. If anything, this book made me less scared of Ebola because it’s nothing compared to the fictional Georgia Flu, which seems to transmit through the air and kill almost everyone within days. Ebola is slow-moving; we’ve totally got this.

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