“Survival is Insufficient”
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is a beautiful and evocative funeral for the modern world. It is a reflective wake, a melancholic and introspective analysis of what it means to be alive now, and how rapidly and irrevocably life can change. St John Mandel creates a substance and beauty in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of her world that I’ve rarely experienced when dealing with these themes. She champions humanity. We see how people face their end, and how people treat with what is left behind. We see the far reaching implications of decisions made and actions taken, their ripples and the resulting effects. We see that there is good in people, and hope, even as the world falls to ruin. This book is the finest novel of this type that I’ve encountered since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Station Eleven takes multiple timelines and a seemingly disparate cast of characters and interweaves them into the greater narrative. Each respective view contributes to the humming synergy of the book as a whole. Each particular character provides little pieces to the greater puzzle and I found myself experiencing small sparks of awareness, moments where unassuming and seemingly insignificant details come back to connect and draw these characters together, reaching through space and time. I found this to be a rewarding and compelling construction; I couldn’t help but read on in an effort to find out just how deep and significant the connections are, and where it all ends. If you enjoy picking up on little details, identifying small morsels of information that may be suffused with importance later, you will love this book.
The world that has been devastated by the Georgia Flu is bleak, but still beautiful. The Travelling Symphony is one form of this beauty. They are a group of actors and musicians who have become a cultural time capsule, a last bastion of the arts. They are the believers in the titular Star Trek quote, they believe that merely survival is not enough, they wish to flourish, to create art and to move people. They travel a dangerous wasteland in order to humanise a world that has lost much of what it once was, to bring hope. We follow the Travelling Symphony in the 20th year following the collapse. This leads to what I feel is a key contrast in personalities and identities, because this contrast is the primary vehicle driving the sorrowful and meditative quality of the book. You have people musing upon their lives pre-collapse, on the significant moments, but also on the frivolities of it. The youngest listen to stories that sound increasingly like fantasy, stories of electricity, compters and the Internet. The oldest remember, reflect and mourn it’s passing. They see a world deprived of what were once expectations, simple things that contribute to our quality of life. These perspectives balance one another. It is reflective, sombre but also optimistic and hopeful. You get a sense that maybe things will be ok, that people haven’t given up.
The things that were once of great importance pale in comparison to the simple pragmatic and practical needs of survival in a world after the collapse, but the beauty of it all isn’t that the book is dismissive of such things, it simply highlights that the importance is all relative to the world in which they are placed. You can hate your job, even if you live in a world with the internet, mobile phones, electricity, supermarkets and running water, it doesn’t make you fickle, flighty or frivolous. These concerns have simply passed on with the old world. The book deals heavily with the notion of being lost. It deals with people living unhappy lives, desperately seeking a place in an existential maelstrom. Station Eleven’s exploration of these ideas is incredibly powerful, I found a lot of the entries of this nature to be quite moving. If you are interested in books that reflect on lives lived, the qualitative summation of people’s existence in the kiln of life, then you will love this book.
This book is beautiful, elegiac and an utterly unique perspective on this style of fiction.There is a tangible sense of danger, but also an ever-flickering light of hope. If you’re looking for a book that deals with a catastrophe, an irreparable disaster, but rather than dealing with the ugly side, the violent side, it focuses upon what is left behind and what can be again, you will love this book. I really cannot recommend it enough. Survival is not sufficient. I will long remember it.