My decision to listen to the audio version of Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel was based on the fact I needed a book to get me through the work day. Not an inspiring start, but I am glad availability was a determining factor in choosing this most excellent book.
There is quite a lot of time shifting in this novel. In the first chapter, Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack while performing King Lear in a Toronto theatre. For most of the people in that theatre, in Toronto, in the world, it’s their last moments on Earth. The Georgia Flu will take 99% of the planet’s human population. Twenty years later, one of the actors in the theatre, an eight year old girl at the time, is still on the “stage” as a member of the Traveling Symphony. Kirsten Raymonde is part of the troupe of actors and musicians who travel the sparsely populated towns of North American entertaining the survivors of the flu’s brutal aftermath. As a group, their numbers help protect them from vandals, but even that can’t save them from a dangerous man known as “the Prophet.”
The night of the play, the people in the theatre, and loved ones of Arthur Leander become a touchstone for the readers. This seemingly inconsequential event in the grand scheme of things is constantly returned to during the novel. We’re taken back to Arthur’s early days, his love affairs and friendships. Some of these people will change the course of events for the survivors of the flu. Without even knowing it, they are connected.
There isn’t a lot more I can tell you about the plot that would make any sense, you just have to go with it. The style might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It isn’t really about the flu or the end of the world, but about human connections. We rely so much on technology to tell us what is happening in the world, with our friends and families. The survivors lament how they took for granted the ability to pick up a phone and talk to loved ones, how easy it was to get to anywhere in the world to see them. What happens when that all disappears? How will we know what happened to people?
I enjoyed the meandering style of Station Eleven, the shell-shocked survivors, and their connection to the fictional sci-fi graphic novel Station Eleven. There were so many small things I liked that added up to so much. Station Eleven reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction, and the literary devices that she uses. The Canadian setting helps too!
I also appreciated that it wasn’t too gloomy. Yes, terrible things happen throughout the novel, but there is hope for humanity by the story’s end. Just like the motto of the Traveling Symphony: “Because survival is insufficient.” Humans aren’t done yet!
About the Audio: Kirsten Potter narrates Station Eleven. She’s an award winning audiobook narrator and does an excellent job here. I can’t complain about her pronunciation. I really wonder if I would have enjoyed the book as much as I did if I had read it instead.