Review: “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel


th-1Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Knopf Books. 352 pages.

Ah yes. Another dystopian book. Another flu pandemic that kills 99 percent of the world’s population. Another book where people strive to survive, killing each other in the process.

But wait, this book isn’t like the others. It sees the post-dystopian world as poetic, beautiful. And the way it tells the story is poetic as well.

OK, all sarcasm aside, Station Eleven is an okay book. It was a New York Times bestseller after all, and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, something I can’t claim, and probably never will. And there are a lot of good things to be said about it.

The book is descriptive to the point of poetry, as I mentioned above. One gets a fresh sense of what it would mean to survive in these days. Second, it’s a fresh look at a worn-old genre. It provided a plausible, but very scary, villain. Finally, it is a complex book, where you never know really how it will end, and I really like surprising, plausible endings.

That’s the good part. And I know that there are many readers out there who love it more than I did. After all, as I mentioned, it was a New York Times bestseller.

But here’s what I had issues with. First, it tells a scattered story in a scattered way, jumping back and forth between life a week before the pandemic hits, then two years after, then nineteen years after. Jumping back and forth like that got confusing to me. And in a poetic way, the author draws parallels between items and events in modern day and the post-pandemic world, something that may appeal on a literary level, but I found just contributed to the confusion.

Second, it focuses almost completely about multiple actors and elite people in the entertainment industry, someone most of us can’t really relate to. The rule is, if you have an extraordinary story, you need ordinary people to balance it out. And because there were multiple characters in multiple time frames, not only did I feel a lack of time to get to know the characters, I really didn’t care if I knew them or not.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I found the survivors lacking in imagination. There was no war-like destruction; everything was, for the most part, intact. If I were to survive, the first thing I would do is march into a library and get a book on how to build things. Then I would go about restoring electricity, getting the ingredients necessary for gunpowder and ammunition for guns, and so on. These people just sat around waiting for someone to rescue them. And I agree that most people would be in that mindset, but it seems at least someone would step forward and try to establish order and use the education and skills they had learned in modern day.

Instead, the book is a strong statement as to how helpless modern man is, and how addicted we are to things that could be taken away from us at a moment’s notice. I wasn’t convinced.

I give this book three out of five stars.

 

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