Station Eleven – “Survival is Insufficient”


I’ve read a lot of novels in 2015 but Station Eleven is the best so far. Emily St John Mandel’s premise isn’t exactly original – sometime around 2010 99% of the world’s population has been wiped out by an aggressive swine flu pandemic. Civilization collapses and the “lucky” survivors are left living one day to the next, hunting for food and forming small farming communities.

The twist is that Mandel switches between the lives of the protagonists before the biological cataclysm, as well as various periods up to “year 25” after the event. The novel is character driven, although there are enough moments of tension to keep you interested in the plot. The focus is not on a Hunger Games/Mad Max style violence and degradation, but on the survivors attempts to hold on to what is important and retain some semblance of the previous civilization, regardless of the odds. By juxtaposing this with various characters stories in the years, weeks and days leading up to the outbreak, Mandel asks some real questions of the reader. In a world of impermanence, what is really important to you? How do you distinguish what you want from what you need? Is information technology an unambiguous force for good, or is it a commercially driven distraction? What are the parallels between pervasive narcissism on social media and the lives of celebrities? I could go on.

There were so many times reading this when I was just stopped in my tracks and starting thinking more clearly about my own life. You cannot ask more of literature than that.