Station Eleven: Book Review

I picked up Station Eleven without knowing much about it. I had seen a couple of bookTubers giving out rave reviews for the book, so I checked its Goodreads page and was convinced with the book’s handsome ratings. I went ahead and started reading it — and I’m so happy I did. I recommend this book to anybody who is looking for a good literary fiction novel. Although many would describe this as a dystopian fiction, it is essentially a literary fiction work which happens to use the post apocalyptic setting.

This is one of those books that leaves you pondering, in a good way, when you finish the book. Consequently, what one takes out of it or how one interprets it will differ from person to person. Although it is a plot driven novel, its main theme is simply about humanity in general — what we as humans would do or think about, what we’d miss the most, or who we’d miss the most when everything around us we’re dependent on today were to be taken away from us. To me, this novel was heartwarming. I completed reading the last page, closed the book, took a deep breath, and just remembered everyone I cared about in this world. I called my parents right away just to talk to them, I texted my sister — told her about this book, and then I just sat in my bed smiling. This book made me appreciate my life and this world we live in a little bit more.

The writing is exquisite and what made it so rich is the contrast between the two settings in the novel, the two time periods — one before the pandemic hits the world, and the other after the pandemic. Oh ! And yes, the pandemic is the apocalypse I alluded to earlier. It’s called the Georgia Flu in the novel. It wipes out almost all of the population, leaving only a handful of people in each cities and towns. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion by jumping back and forth between these two worlds, but it still manages to bring out an excellent narrative arc.

The story circles around a few characters — Arthur Leander, an actor who struggles to cope with fame, his ex wife who is writes comic books as her hobby — actually more than just a hobby, a friend of the actor — a psychologist, and a paparazzi turned medical student. All these characters are written beautifully, and their stories for the most part unfolds in the pre-pandemic world. After the pandemic, fifteen or twenty years down the line, we see a narrative of a group of musicians and artists called the Travelling Symphony who perform orchestra and Shakespearean plays in towns and outposts of the new plague hit world. Their motto being “Because Survival is Insufficient”, a quote from a Star Trek episode, emphasizing how art and music can be uplifting, and even necessary in their new world, and how mere survival is not what people really want. People want to see what was best about the previous world.

All these story arcs takes a solid structure and the entire novel is centered around a single piece of art — a comic book called “Station Eleven”, written by Arthur’s ex wife, Miranda, which somehow gets passed on amid the chaos caused by the pandemic.

This novel is not about the apocalypse itself — it’s not about how people panicked and did crazy things, and it’s not about the chaos. It’s also not a story of how a protagonist tries to find the cure for the disease. Rather, it’s about what people felt — what people missed, and how people showed their resilience after many years of the collapse. In the author’s own words, “It was a love letter to the current world and the people who live in it”.

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