3 stars. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven cannot decide whether it is literature or post-apocalyptic thriller, and despite some good moments, never really rises to either genre. In the near future, the Georgian flu has wiped out most of the people on the planet. Kirsten Raymonde is part of a troupe called the Traveling Symphony that journeys throughout the Great Lakes area entertaining people. She collects memorabilia from an actor named Arthur Leander, whose death she witnessed, and she sees the rise of the dictatorial Prophet. EMT Jeevan Chaudhary attempts to save him, but is unsuccessful, and his tale provides a parallel narrative.
I enjoyed the “survival is insufficient” theme that was presented in the book; it does seem realistic that when raw survival is accomplished, humans need stories that move them. The strength of Station Eleven is the emphasis on our needs beyond food, water, fire, and shelter.
I had two main issues with the book: I never truly identified with any of the characters and too much of the book hinged on the coincidence of shared past events. I always felt a remoteness and distance from the characters; Arthur is shallow and unlikable, and as he is the crux of the story, I can find little basis to like those who revolve around his figure, loving and idolizing a man that really is worthy of neither. The crux of survival books is caring about the characters, so Station Eleven falls flat in that aspect. Jeevan’s story feels very tacked on in comparison with Kirsten’s much richer story, and it never connects back to the rest of the book. The identity of The Prophet is moderately predictable to the astute reader, and seems a bit too pat.
I do like Mandel’s prose, and her phrasing is very good, making this a pleasant book to read from an artistic standpoint.
Ultimately, this feels like a book for people who really want to enjoy The Walking Dead or The Stand but don’t want to be so bourgeois as to read something that is actually popular among hoi polloi.