Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel has been sitting on my kindle since August just waiting to be read. A small part of my brain worried that the novel, which has received excellent reviews, would feel somewhat like a let down. Many book addicts will relate to the notion ‘I’m not buying any more books until I read the ones I already have’, the statement which drove me to finally read Station Eleven.
The story is essentially the apocalypse (minus zombies). The Georgia Flu breaks out, killing the majority of people on earth and shattering contemporary society, leaving the survivors to pick up the pieces. A range of characters are explored from Kirsten, who was too young to really remember the modern world and travels around America in a symphony performing Shakespeare plays, to Clark, who is middle-aged when the flu takes hold and witnesses the extraordinary transition. Station Eleven’s Antagonist, known as “the prophet”, is vaguely depicted as psychologically sick and barbaric in his behaviour, yet his character is only explored from a distance a few times in the novel. I would have liked to get a closer and more personal examination of what turned the prophet into such a cruel being.
Due to the nature of Mandel’s chapters, which rotated character focus, I felt there wasn’t enough space to get to know the characters who had potential to be likable. Specifically, Miranda, Jeevan and Tyler could have been used to make allies out of the reader and evoke emotional response, yet Mandel underwrote these characters and left me feeling unsympathetic to anyone.
In addition, the cartoons which inspire the title Station Eleven were associated with the main plot in such an abstract way that it became too complex to follow for an apocalyptic story, which in turn stole the excitement and turned the reading process into a chore. Characters which had copies of Station Eleven were coincidentally linked, turning a novel, which fought viciously to parallel reality, into transparent fiction. To make matters worse, there was no happy ending, or even an ending of any value to signify loyalty to this mode of writing.
In terms of the pace and structure of the novel, I was also disappointed. The slow drag of the opening chapters made it difficult to stick by and then there was no dramatic rise in tension. Arguably, an altercation with the prophet could have been marked as the ‘peak’ in the story, however it was so dull and monotonous that it failed to move me. Instead, I was left counting down the pages to the end of the story so I could move on and read something else. It was one of those situations in which I had fought so hard to work my way through half of the novel, that I was determined to finish it based on principle. Enjoyment had nothing to do with it.
Jessikah Hope Stenson