Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a haunting novel about the end of the world as we know it. SARS has come and gone but a virus called the Georgian Flu starts in Russia and rapidly makes its way around the world. People get flu-like symptoms and are dead within 3-4 hours. This means that families are separated. Parents fall ill at work and never return home. Kids are left to their own devices. There is mass panic as people try to flee—but where can they go? Highway on/off ramps are backed up, traffic is at a standstill, people walk and fall along the road or manage to survive and set up small settlements. There’s no one around to refuel gas stations. The existing gas stores eventually expire. The internet fails, electrical grids turn off, generator power dies. There are no more medicines, no more processed foods, no more new clothes or soaps or other commonplace items. The few people left ransack buildings for food, shelter and other necessities.
Station Eleven is told mostly 20 years after the collapse of the world as we know it. There are small settlements around Lake Michigan and we follow a travelling symphony that performs Shakespeare around the area. Members of the symphony are separate by a maundering group intent on stockpiling food and weapons. The story line is a mix of how they get separate, whether they’ll reunite, and flashbacks to the before the flu and the first years after the collapse. It’s fascinating.
As a thought exercise, this book is a terrible look at what could happen to us when we have to do without. There are friendships, partnerships, and strong group dynamics. But there’s also greed, melancholy and the type of strife that undermines us even today.
I recommend having a little taste of this sci-fi, apocalyptic world full of Shakespeare, music, and the plague.