Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

I really enjoyed this book. This was yet another book that I read without knowing anything about it, so it wasn’t quite what I expected. Based on the title I had thought the story would probably take place in space, but actually this book takes place on Earth and really has only the mildest of science fiction elements. By page 15, it’s pretty obvious this is going to be a post-apocalyptic book. By page 17, you know how it’s going to happen.

 

The story is told in a really interesting way. Although this book has very little in common with Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, it does have a very similar structure in terms of the way the story jumps around in time with no predictable pattern. We jump forward and backward in time, all over the place, reading about events in certain characters’ lives before, during, and after the events that wiped out most of humanity. I think this helped make the story more interesting, but it was still easy to follow and I never felt confused or overwhelmed.

 

Station Eleven is a very character-driven story. In fact, the book seemed a bit lacking in plot to me, although I enjoyed it a lot so this is really just an observation and not a criticism. We get little snippets of how people survive through various troubles after the population is decimated, but this really isn’t a survival story and there’s no clear end-goal that you’re working toward from beginning to end.

 

The characters were all interesting and most of them were likeable or at least sympathetic. As the story progresses, you get little hints that there are connections between their different stories. Well, some of them are obvious, but there are also subtle clues where an object created or possessed by one character ends up in the possession of another seemingly unrelated character and things like that. I usually found that I was able to correctly guess the connections pretty much as soon as the questions arose, so there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, but I enjoyed the way the book kept me thinking to figure out the connections and to keep the non-linear story straight in my head. This is one of those books that I kept thinking about in-between reading sessions, which often led me to pick it back up sooner than I might have otherwise.

 

There were some aspects of the story which were perhaps a little unrealistic, but I was able to set my doubts aside and just enjoy the story. I was also satisfied with the ending although there would certainly be room for other stories in this setting, either with or without the same characters. There were a lot of gaps in the periods we jumped around between. I would enjoy more stories about the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic event, more stories about how people survived over the next few years, more stories after the events in the book, stories about what was going on in other areas and especially other countries, and so forth. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever finished a book and had this reaction before, but one of my first thoughts after finishing was that it would make a good setting for a TV series.