With its splendid plot connecting the present and the future, Emily St John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ became the 29th novel to win the Arthur C Clarke Award for best science fiction. Her novel also won the National Book Award 2014.
‘Station Eleven’ tells the story of several characters battling against the deadly Georgia flu; the stories of the dead and of the ones who survived it. What makes the plot interesting is the way she brings out all the past and present events together: in contrast. She makes the reader see the helplessness and how shocking the unexpected news was about the breakout of the flu.
She introduces us first to Jeevan, a paramedic trainee, who runs out of the theater in the middle of a play, to find a safe resort from the flu. Later, he together with his brother watch from inside of their house how the world slowly turned dark, leaving no ray of hope. From inside, Jeevan thinks it might have been better if he was consumed by the flu.
We meet the first victim of the flu: a famous actor, Arthur Leander, who collapses on stage in the middle of a play. Each main character in the novel carries a connection to him. Jeevan is in the audience when the flu hits Arthur, the young actress, Kirsten who survives the flu and later joins a travelling group of actors and Miranda, Arthur’s wife whose comic titled ‘Station Eleven’ becomes the mirror of the future that is to fall on them.
Kirsten travels with her group, acting in Shakespearean dramas. She doesn’t remember much from the pre-flu world and each day she together with her friends plot for survival. It’s surprising how Mandel drags us straight towards the darkness in the world after the flu.
There’s no electricity, no mobiles or newspapers. Everything has come to a halt. And Miranda never gets to complete her post-apocalyptic comic series.
Apart from all the stories of survival, there are incidents where Mandel brings out about the impact of beliefs and religion through the depiction of murderous cults and prophets. She tells us that this is a time in which people have lost their hopes and beliefs. And there is the Museum, where things from the pre-flu world are displayed; mobile phones, laptops, radios, books and magazines.
The novel ends up with a hint of hope as Kirsten finds out a way to start the electricity supply again. But we’ll never know whether they succeeded or not. Unlike many other science fiction novels
‘Station Eleven’ has a multitude of themes and deepening revelations on life and survival. It makes the reader think about the present world and the dangers we might face someday.