The Outlands Review
Exploring Far Flung Worlds and Speculative Ideas
Emily St John Mandel
Station Eleven is a pandemic story about a virus named the Georgia Flu that wipes our 99% of the earth’s population. The 333 pages are split into 55 short chapters and 9 parts that switch characters and time periods at a bewildering but engaging pace. It’s not a tale of humankind’s collapse into something more brutal and sparse (although there are hints of this), but more a collection of uplifting survivor stories. The narrative centres on a few interconnected characters that are related to an ageing actor, Arthur Leander who dies on stage within the first few pages. This is the night the pandemic hits Toronto and the following eight parts explore each of these characters pre and post the Pandemic.
There is Kirsten who is eight years old at the beginning, and on stage with Arthur when he dies, Jeevan, who is in the audience and witnesses his death, Miranda and Elizabeth, his ex-wives, his son, Tyler, and Clark his oldest and closest friend. The story circles through these characters, telling their intertwined back stories and what happened to them after the Pandemic.
The post Pandemic part of the story focuses on Kirsten to begin with. It’s twenty years later and the Pandemic has done its worst and a civilisation of sorts is starting to emerge. She tours the new settlements with a theatre troop performing Shakespeare. Why create a theatre troop after the world has fallen apart? As the lead caravan states in white lettering “The Travelling Symphony: because survival is insufficient”.
The arts are of course a key characteristic of a civilised society and a nod to the improving state of the world. The troop have been on the road since year five touring an area in North East America around Lake Michigan. As part of their travels they run into a doomsday cult and a large part of the plot is them escaping the consequences’s of that encounter.
There isn’t the death and violence you usually see in apocalypse stories, it’s hinted at and talked about, but the story is more an ode to what was lost, the before and after, but it’s ultimately hopeful about what humanity will recreate and build again. For some people, like Clark, who becomes a curator of historical artefacts at an airport settlement, and Jeevan, who creates a new peaceful life with a women he meets, the pandemic feels like the best thing that happened to them. Clark states he is happy now, content, whereas previously he was “sleepwalking” through life. It’s disconcerting that something so horrific can be the new start they needed.
You can read an interview about this book with Emily St John Mandel on Tor
This is a worthy addition to the pantheon of pandemic disaster stories.
© The Outlands Review