Emily St John Mandel, Station Eleven, Picador, 2014.
It all begins an evening in Toronto. A man goes to see King Lear with his girlfriend. A famous actor plays Lear but during the madness scene he collapses on stage. The man, who has medical training rushes to the stage to help but the famous actor dies. He goes out of the theatre. It's night, everyone is gone, his girlfriend didn't wait for him. He starts walking back home when he receives a call on his mobile from one of his friend who works in a hospital. He tells him to stock on food and to lock himself in his flat: a pandemic is spreading...
Station Eleven isn't your usual apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novel: the focus isn't the pandemic itself. The story isn't a linear one and alternates, without any obvious logic at first, between moments before the pandemic, during the pandemic or after it. The reader realises quite quickly that the focus actually is the characters and the consequences of the pandemic on them. There's no epic tale of survival, but tales of self-discovery and how to find your place in this world.
I have really loved the style: it's beautiful written, sometimes very striking, and Emily St John Mandel varies her narrative choices. Some readers may dislike the absence of linearity: clearly, it's not Flood by Baxter, and it can be frustrating to lose the storyline of one character without knowing if St John Mandel will go back to him or her. But this absence of linearity is actually what makes the beauty of the story: the characters' fate and their choices are examined under an unexpected angle. In a linear story, you wouldn't have felt a single shred of pity for some of them, but with this storytelling choice, they suddenly appear in a completely different light.
The story doesn't really bring anything new to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genre, but it is gripping and sometimes very touching.
It is a remarkably beautiful and emotional novel that left me speechless for a few minutes after having finished it. Station Eleven has been nominated for the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award and I hope it will win, it would be entirely deserved.
Update - May 2015: Station Eleven has won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Picador has the first chapter up for free reading.
All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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