It’s easy these days to discount dystopian-set novels because there are just so many of them, but at the same time also really relate to them because, I mean, c’mon. We’re living in a downright scary time.
Ebola, racial and social unrest, bat-shit crazy world leaders — the Earth seems to be a ticking time bomb right now, so it’s only a matter of time before a great lot of us gets wiped out by something sinister, be it a swift-moving virus, a nuke — or our own damn human race.
That’s why Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” is such an engrossing read. Even more so than other similarly themed novels like Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” and “The Twelve,” both of which I loved (mostly because vampires).
I mean, I sure hope that when the super-virus comes, it will just wipe us out without turning us into zombies or vampires (as much as I’d love to be a vampire because I know I’d be just darling at it). I mean, we all know that zombies and vampires don’t really exist, right? Right?!
OK. Back to “Station Eleven.” From the moment her King Lear falls in the beginning pages, Mandel had me by the throat. The pacing of the novel is immaculate, how she interweaved the present-day part of her story with the past, deftly showing us how It happened, making us feel that horrible fear when something is wrong, very, very wrong and then showing us how to survive, adapt and start anew.
“Jeevan’s understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies,” Mandel writes, and reading the line almost stopped me in my tracks. I consider myself a survivor. A survivor of bad jobs, the bad relationships or bosses I’ve had in the past, bad luck, Murphy’s Law … you get the idea.
But a survivalist I am surely not. Like paparazzo-slash-journalist-slash-EMT-slash-survivalist Jeevan, everything I’d know about preparing for the end of the world would come from movies, shows or books, so I’m thankful Mandel drove home the point about making sure to nab as much bottled water as humanly possible as her Jeevan did.
“Station Eleven” is equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. You can’t help but imagine yourself within the story. Maybe as part of the Traveling Symphony, seeing the new world through their eyes, or watching the old world fall around you like some of the other characters we meet along the way.
How would you cope? What would you do? And, as is asked in the reading group guide at the end of the book, what do you think you’d remember most from The Time Before? Talk about a gut-punch Q. Would you remember electricity? Your favorite fruit? Or something else? The smell of a fresh, spring day? Looking down over the Aran Islands from a now-obsolete plane? The sound of your neighbors above you stomping around every hour of every day? Fighting for space on your subway commute?
“If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?” Emily St. John Mandel asks in “Station Eleven,” but the question might be one we’ll answer soon enough for ourselves if things keep going the way they are.