The more I enjoy a book the harder I find it to write the review. I don’t know whether this is just because it’s easier to criticise than praise. Or because writing a positive review can quickly become gushy, and no one wants to read that.
Anyway, this review of Station Eleven is really really hard to write.
This problem isn’t helped by the completely genre defying plot line. I wanted to recommend Station Eleven to my mum but when I described it to her she just said, ‘oh no, you know I don’t like science fiction.’ But it’s not science fiction. It might be set in this dystopian future but there’s nothing fantastical about it. What’s fantastical about a strain of disease that we haven’t found the antidote for? What’s stopping that disease from mutating in one corner of the planet and within weeks wiping out the majority of the human race? And surely no one can doubt that in those circumstances some religious fanatics would see that event as a sign from god and build a cult around it. Nobody turns into a zombie, there isn’t an international war and the constant fear of getting caught up in it, just an abandoned wasteland filled with remnants of a long lost civilisation. It’s a scarily believable reality.
Twenty years after the epidemic and the surviving people now look on the abandoned airplanes and electricity stations as novelties rather than something to aspire to. Apart from a small group who are travelling from one settlement to another performing classical music and the works of Shakespeare.
The book follows the Travelling Symphony in this post-apocalyptic world but the vast majority of the book is set before the epidemic, focussing on the life of famous actor Arthur Leander, who died unrelatedly on the night of the outbreak whilst performing King Lear.
You also get introduced to little snippets of the lives of Arthur’s ex-wives and friends. Which when Charles Dickens does it, when you’re happily reading about the developing revolution in France and suddenly you’ve got two pages of back story about a barely related gravedigger, really annoys me, but I was happy to give Emily St John Mandel the benefit of the doubt. And I was right to, because all those little side notes and secondary characters pulled together in the end with the perfect tying up of loose ends that I love.
And the writing. Oh the writing. It was so beautifully poetic, so richly and hauntingly described, without wandering into the long passages of description cause my mind to wander and can completely put me off. Basically, it was everything that I want from a book.
I feel like more furore should have been made over this book. It was fleetingly all over Instagram and then it disappeared again, like every other briefly fashionable book. No one told me it was actually amazing.