Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Review: Station Eleven

"The more you remember, the more you've lost"

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Year: 2014
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 333

I recommend going into this novel without knowing what it is about, so I’m not going to give a summary. It’s even difficult to classify it as one particular genre, but to give you a general idea of what the novel is about, I’ll tell you this: There’s a pandemic which could have apocalyptic consequences. We learn about the world before the disease, during it, and many years after.

This is the only book I was able to get through in the month of June as it left me in a major slump. I don’t really know why, though. Writing this review now makes me realise I have forgotten quite a bit of the story, it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I thought it would. I have to admit the feelings it made me feel, the impressions it made on me, they did last. However, because the story didn’t, I can’t rate five stars, which is what I initially wanted to.

Still, four stars means it is a brilliant book nonetheless. Its structure is so clever and well thought out – we get to know our characters through many years and even though it jumps back and forth, it never becomes confusing. Moreover, it is very original in the way it handles the potential apocalypse. Generally, books surrounding an apocalypse focus on the actual downfall itself and direct survival, leaving to the reader’s imagination how the world will continue. Mandel offers much more insight, leaving out the tumultuous years right after the pandemic, skipping quite a few years. For this very reason, many people whose reviews I read, actually disliked the novel. I feel, though, that this is just the originality needed in such a popular genre. It’s even more original because it also focusses so much on how the characters lived and developed many years before the disease.

I would say the main themes of the novel are memory and nostalgia. The story is driven by nostalgia, because our main character collects things associated with the past and the story builds around this. We’re constantly reminded of the past, as are the characters in the future parts of the novel. Those who remember the past are nostalgic about it, yet focus on moving on. The past is not a taboo, but they’re also aware that they can’t go back. Because of this positive spirit of moving on, Station Eleven is not as bleak as other apocalyptic stories. I’m not saying it is a happy one, though, a lot happens in this book, and hardly anything will make you smile. 

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