I don’t usually go for dystopian fiction. Oryx and Crake? Couldn’t get past page 30… In general, I just don’t love end-of-the-world hopelessness, desolate landscapes, and the constant fear that accompanies being one of the few survivors of an apocalyptic change, be it viral or chemical or other.
After so many recommendations and great reviews, however, I decided to pick up Station Eleven. Set in the lead-up and 20-year aftermath of a cataclysmic flu that wipes out much of Earth’s population, it follows various characters as they scatter and attempt to survive in the hours, days, and years after a performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear in Toronto.
In the years after the flu pandemic, we get visions of what the world is like from the perspective of Kirsten, one of the children in that production of King Lear in Toronto, who is now an adult player in a traveling symphony/theater that treks from one small enclave of survivors to another bringing music and Shakespearean theater. Post-pandemic, what used to be the U.S. is a place without electricity, planes, phones, the internet, without laws; cities are creepy monuments to a past civilization, full of skeletons, acres of abandoned cars on highways, looted stores and houses, and the echoes of half-realized lives. The visuals that Emily St. John Mandel creates of this world are memorable and terrifying, and it’s a fascinating, compulsive read.
The middle flagged a bit and I kept thinking move it along, move it along. I figured out the reveal pretty early on, and the ending was a bit too tidy and unrealistic for my taste, but overall I give it high marks for story, and character development… and for making me stay up, wide-eyed, two nights in a row imagining what it would be like to live in a Station Eleven world.