What to take from a pandemic

Station Eleven book cover

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Station Eleven is about a pandemic flu that wipes out most of the world’s population, but it’s very much a literary novel. Much of the focus is on a group of nomadic actors and musicians called The Traveling Symphony, and its theme is about the place of the arts in our lives and how they help to give people meaning.

This was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Some critics criticized how Emily St. John Mandel skipped over the devastation itself, not focusing more on the immediate pain of it. I had no problem with that as a reader, since I’ve read and seen this type of scenario a thousand times before; there’s nothing new to do in that realm. I thought the author handled it deftly, giving a chilling sense of how quickly the world changes without indulging in grotesque description. I found it very effective overall.

This is definitely a bit of a fantasy in its positive focus about a global calamity, but I found that it got under my skin in all the good ways, making me think of it long after I’d finished. By depicting all that is lost, Mandel managed to make me look with fresh eyes on what we have now, a great accomplishment to pull on a jaded reader like me. Maybe part of that is living through the current pandemic, but while this came out in 2014, it still seems fresh. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.