Thursday, 10 September 2015

Station Eleven Book Review

Station Eleven is a story of the collapse of civilisation. The book opens with the dramatic death of Arthur, one of the lead characters, during a performance of King Lear. Later on that same day, society as we know it is no more. An outbreak of the Georgian flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population and ends almost everything. No electricity, no transportation, no law. Only people trying to survive in a world that has changed entirely overnight.

The author takes us on a journey through different points in time. Day one of the outbreak, twenty years on and various points in-between. Although this time travel can feel choppy there are constant threads that weave throughout pulling everything together. Shakespeare, a comic book, the life of Arthur and the people in it. 

This isn’t your usual post-apocalypse novel in that there isn’t much around the events immediately after the disaster. No descriptions of the daily battle for survival or fight for resources or the hunt for loved ones. Instead Station Eleven tells the tale of the Travelling Symphony. A band of musicians and actors who travel the land performing Shakespeare and classical music to settlements that have sprung up in the aftermath of  the disaster. Because, as is the theme of the book, “survival is insufficient”.

I wish it was longer. Although I enjoyed the book and appreciate the story is intended to give us glimpses into the lives of these characters rather than narrate the whole twenty year plus period, I feel a lot of left unsaid and unexplained. It feels a bit incomplete and I’m left with a lot of questions. We are introduced to the characters, but (with the exception of one or two), it feels all we get is the introduction. What happened to Kirsten during that first year? What become of Elizabeth? What did Clark do for 20 years in an airport? I was also left feeling unsatisfied at the end when Jeevan didn’t end up at the airport with the rest of interlinked characters.

The different spin on this book makes it original and there are wonderful descriptions which set the tone really well. The abandoned airplane full of passengers sitting on the runway quarantined and doomed. The frantic stock up at the supermarket. The 27th from last commercial airline flight. His second from last cup of coffee ever. Though, ultimately, when it comes down to it I like my end of the world stories traditional. I’m a big Walking Dead fan and I’m interested in the struggle for survival. Orchestras and Shakespeare performances just doesn’t do it for me in this type of book. Maybe I don’t have enough appreciation of the arts to fully embrace the theme “because survival is insufficient” (couldn’t we have a love story instead?!). 


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