Station Eleven is a novel about the time before and after a pandemic that kills 99.99 percent of the world’s population. But unlike some other apocalyptic stories, it didn’t focus on as much of the violent aftermath, or the worst of humanity. Instead, author Emily St. John Mandel focused on what was worth saving, what was lost and what was gained.
Our first responder liked the book and found the descriptions vivid and easy to envision. One member liked the writing but found much to criticize. Another said that the book could be picked apart 2000 ways, but that wasn’t the point. Perhaps she didn’t say it in quite that way – but I remember the number 2000 and the suggestion that what makes a book worthwhile isn’t always in the details so much as in the complete package.
We did tear the book apart for some of the details (or lack of them). We discussed the location around the great lakes (fruit country). Why didn’t they collect books? Surely there would have been more resources to help people survive. Why did the author have the Prophet come from Israel? We discussed Shakespeare’s timeless themes and iconic characters. We didn’t directly discuss the core concept of “survival is insufficient.” When we discussed our choices to add to the Museum of Civilization, we mentioned eye glasses and toasters and waffle irons, but nothing really personal. I was fascinated that the majority of us thought of catalogs and newspapers and books.
One of the highlights of the discussion for me was when we considered whether anyone in the book was the main character: most thought Kirsten, the young girl who met each character and survived into the future; someone mentioned Clark, the curator of the Museum; another defended Arthur as the most fully developed, if most unlikeable, and the definite link between everyone.
We discussed so many things. Isaac Asimov and Emerson. M.C. Escher’s “Hand with Reflecting Sphere.” Arthur’s development into a performer in life as well as on stage. The use of present tense as a transitional device. The author said that her “idea was to write about the modern world through writing about its absence.”  I put out battery-powered lanterns to help set the mood and make the meeting memorable, but after awhile the darkness was distracting. Staion Eleven is a wistful novel. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder.
- Other works discussed:
- Dog Stars (2012) by Peter Heller
- Nightfall (1941) by Isaac Asimov
- The Stand (1978 )by Stephen King
- Walking Dead (Television series)
- Works of Shakespeare (especially King Lear and Macbeth)