"Hell is the absence of the people you long for."
Around this time last year, when I was trapped in Shakespeareland without any sign of reprieve, everyone seemed to be reading Station Eleven and loving the pants off it. I say seemed to be because I can't really remember now (and only scanned blogs during that time anyway, SORRY I LOVE YOU ALL) but I know that Station Eleven made its way onto my wishlist and the lovely Hanna bought it for me for my birthday. I also know that it snuck its way into my brain thus:
dystopia + Shakespeare + excellent writing=PERSONALLY WRITTEN FOR ME, LAURA
and basically, that's exactly what I got.
So. Station Eleven is kind of like The Stand, if in The Stand you replaced all the supernatural stuff (and most of the pages) with a travelling theatre that basically just performs Shakespeare. Now that I've written that sentence I've thought of about 100 ways in which the two are actually different, so I'm going to start again.
Station Eleven is kind of like The Stand in that they both take a devastating flu that wipes out around 99% of the population as their starting point, and from there go off in wildly different directions, of which I quite considerably prefer
St. John Mandel's Emily's (sorry, Uncle Stevie). It's not just because of things like this:
"They'd performed more modern plays sometimes in the first few years, but what was startling, what no one would have anticipated, was that audiences seemed to prefer Shakespeare to their other theatrical offerings.(although, COME ON!), but because Station Eleven really and truly thinks about WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE if 99% of the population died. She brings up things that I wouldn't have considered, like the fact that the internet wouldn't exist anymore (and if you think I can ever take the internet for granted again after that well then... You would be right, but I'm definitely more aware of its impermanence now), as well as heartbreaking realities that feel exactly like realities, like doing anything to survive, and doing even more to live ("Because survival is insufficient" is the motto of the Travelling Symphony in the novel).
'People want what was best about the world,' Dieter said."
What I especially liked about the book was the sense in which loss was covered. In so many dystopian novels, loss and grief in the personal sense is often overlooked in favour of what the living have to do to survive. Whilst it is in no way a central part of this book, either, there are still points at which the deep grief of losing everyone you've ever known and loved is recognised, appreciated, and attempted to be described. Knowing that the characters feel this grief (and I'll say again, it's not central and definitely not over-mentioned) makes the relationships between survivors so much more important, and yet not unrealistic- there is a whole chapter where SJM describes the personal hatreds of each member of the symphony, which is so true to human nature that you can't help but laugh at it.
Before I read it, I feared that Station Eleven might be pretentious, but it isn't even the tiniest bit. The storytelling is wonderful, the story itself is so real that I'm now really scared of getting a cold again, and I can't overstate just how much I loved this book. Even if it doesn't make you think about the weapon you'd adopt in case of apocalypse, it'll keep you entertained for the duration and probably make you cry some too. Don't say I didn't warn you.