“Survival is insufficient,” says one of Station Eleven’s characters – quoting an old Star Trek Voyager episode – about a third of the way through Emily St. John’s excellent post-apocalyptic novel. It’s a key theme.
The world has been ravaged by the Georgia Flu – 99 per cent of the human race eliminated in weeks. Years after the collapse, across what was once North America, the Travelling Symphony brings classical music and Shakespeare to small communities of survivors.
There’s nothing new about the global pandemic premise of course but Mandel’s treatment is fresh and original. Like Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus, reviewed elsewhere on this site, it’s a strange and idiosyncratic novel that marches to its own off-beat, avoiding the tired tropes of the genre and offering new insights.
Namely, that survival is insufficient. Unlike the characters in The Road – to which this book is often compared – or The Walking Dead, Station Eleven’s players are not content to just keep breathing. In a plot that spans from the decades before humanity’s downfall to twenty years afterwards, the book’s ensemble cast is looking for meaning in art – from the Bard to sci-fi comic books – and religion. To merely exist in the post-apocalyptic world is not enough – they need to find reasons to live.
There is violence but overall it’s a refreshingly optimistic antidote to the unrelenting misery and gloom of its contemporaries in the genre.
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