Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel’s beautifully haunting novel, opens in a theatre in Toronto where a renowned actor named Arthur is performing in King Lear.
As the audience watches on, Arthur suddenly dies of a heart attack. They do not yet know that their world is on the verge of changing forever that very same night.
From the stage in Toronto we are taken 20 years into the future to a vastly different scene. The landscape and civilisation as we know it has been drastically altered by a deadly pandemic. There we meet the Travelling Symphony who journey from settlement to settlement performing Shakespeare plays.
They have emblazoned on their carriage a line from Star Trek: Survival is insufficient. In some way this is their motto. It is not enough for them to simply survive in this post apocalyptic world, they must try to bring entertainment and joy to others through their performing.
Here we are also introduced to Kristen. She is now a member of the symphony but was once a small child actor on stage in that Toronto theatre the night Arthur died.
Beginning with Kristen, Mandel weaves the main character’s’ stories together as she seamlessly connects two very different worlds.This is an action packed book, yet there is something gentle and eerie about the way Mandel describes the altered landscapes and the characters that move through them.
In this novel we see our current world with technology, work and commitments mixed together with everyday human relationships, fears and dreams.
This is hugely powerful when contrasted against the emptiness, uncertainty and fear that exists in the post-pandemic world. This book makes us think about choices we make, the values we hold and allows us to see our existence from another angle.