By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf, 2014. 336 pgs. Fiction
Fifteen years after a pandemic flu wiped out most of civilization, Shakespeare lives on as the most requested playwright. Twenty-something Kirsten performs Shakespeare as a member of the traveling symphony, who tours the settlements of survivors throughout the US. She is asked often about her last real day before the pandemic hit, when famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander died of a heart attack on the stage of King Lear. Kirsten would not have suspected that their stop in St. Deborah by the Water, home to a violent prophet, may be her last.
Station 11 is a quiet, meandering, and character-driven novel, contrary to how the plot summary may sound. Written in a nonlinear format, it alternates between the past, the present, and the perspectives of several different characters. The chapters are short and concise, and for the most part the transitions between them are seamless, although they didn't always hold my interest evenly.
The devastated world and the characters – all connected in some way to Arthur Leander and the graphic novel Station 11 - are strangely fascinating. For the most part I felt like it was a realistic interpretation of what a world without government, technology or electricity would look like. The loose ends come together poignantly at the novel’s conclusion, quietly proving the symphony’s motto: Because survival is insufficient.