Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel with a realism and relatability that I have never experienced from a novel such as this.
Our scene opens in Toronto, Ontario where a formerly-famous film star just collapsed on stage as he plays King Lear. Arthur Leander dies as a newly minted paramedic, Jeevan Chaudhary, attempts to resuscitate him. Meanwhile, a child actor named Kirsten Raymonde is on stage and is marked for life by witnessing Leander die. As the event dies down, Jeevan’s friend, a doctor at Toronto General Hospital calls to make good on a promise he made years ago to Jeevan: Yes, there is a real epidemic going on. Clark Thompson, Leander’s best friend, is meanwhile tasked with alerting all Leander’s ex-wives that he has passed away. This includes successful executive Miranda Carroll who is currently in Malaysia. Then in Toronto Jeevan’s phone rings again, his doctor friend advises him to evacuate the city.
The Georgian Flu kills 99% of the Earth’s population in only a few days. Now the world must learn how to continue on without internet, phones, electricity, etc. We are set up immaculately well, with almost every major player being introduced before the 5th chapter. And Chapter 6? Haunting. Just a list of everything the world doesn’t have anymore. Things we have all taken for granted:
No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
We suddenly wake up in a world devastated and barely able to survive. But, unlike most dystopian novels we have no zombies. No Mad Max-esque road warriors. No action scenes. No crazed government plots. Just humanity struggling to survive.
The main players, as addressed above, are all loosely connected to each other. As the story moves forward we are constantly flashed to the past and experience these tenuous ties being drawn tighter only to be pulled apart again. For example, Kirsten survived and as a once-child-actor now travels and performs with an acting troupe: The Traveling Symphony. Here they put on concerts and performs Shakespeare. Shakespeare and his world, also ravaged by plague- but not as roughly, serve as constant metaphors. The Traveling Symphony’s motto is Survival in Insufficient. This Star Trek quote sparks endless debate amongst the players and their audience members. What is the world without culture?
First we only want to be seen, but once we’ve been seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.
Along with Shakespeare, the Georgian Flu is used to explore so many facets of humanity. Our “current day” story is Year 20 post-plague. Characters reflect on the lives they once knew before the collapse of humanity. There is discussion of art and music, the value items once had and how their pervasive value has changed. We only learn about the pandemic what we can learn from the characters in the story. It’s sparse and real. We witness religious fanatics, experience the loss of sanity many who live through the epidemic go through, we see stealing and murder– we watch humanity crumble and build itself back up. We get to intimately know individuals and through them experience this breathtaking world.
The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?
Station Eleven itself is a huge enigma throughout the novel. As we, the reader, unravel the mystery of Station Eleven through the pages and the hops in time, we want to share all its secrets. I desperately wanted to reach into the pages and help answer all the unknowns our characters had. But that is our privilege as the reader, and sadly, the fate of all great and flawed characters.
Station Eleven is haunting, terrifying, beautiful, and captivating. It taught me to appreciate the little things and helped me recognize what I take for granted might not always be here.