“Because Survival is Insufficient” – Seven of Nine (Star Trek Voyager)
Station Eleven is the award winning, fourth novel of Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel. While the many awards the book has won should be enough to entice me to read and review, my real reasoning was it is the inaugural book for the community wide book club, Red Deer Reads. I had started this review several months ago but thanks to a heavy semester was unable to finish it until now.
Set within a dystopian background, Station Eleven quickly reveals the propensity for keeping this reader captivated beyond her usual bed time. Having been drawn to post-apocalyptic narratives for as long as I can remember, I happily found the exploration of human intimacy and personal interactions within Ms. St. John Mandel’s novel to be opposite of the expected decay of character and environment as often happens within this type of tale.
Spanning several decades, the novel exhibits the author’s talent in connecting not only people with each other but surrounding events as well; a clarity of time kept clear rather than becoming muddled in the changing intervals. With clever word play, that would make the Bard himself proud, the author invites the reader to keep guessing until the end about the connectivity the characters all share. With the continual development of the characters, throughout the entirety of the novel, an attachment of sorts is created; with some character’s charm endearing them to the reader while the possibility of death for others elicits silent encouragement.
The synopsis of the events is based on characters from all walks of life coming together with the single-mindedness to preserve what they consider to be one of the most important aspects of their past life, Shakespeare, while fighting off and resisting those who would oppress this desire. This nod to the ever enduring battle for the preservation of the Arts is reminiscent of one that can be seen within post-secondary institutions in our present time. With financial cuts and reallocations leading to the severing of Arts and Humanities programs until mere base requirements remain, there seems to be a blindness to the fact that literature preserves the essence, the ideals, of humanity and without it there is nothing; not even science. Within the simplicity of The Traveling Symphony’s Shakespearian re-enactments, the power of literature is seen again making this one of my favourite novels of this genre.
Admittedly, there will be those who read this thinking it would be more beneficial (or likely) for a miracle of science to preserve the life on a dying planet but, as an English major, I can only pen praise for Ms. St. John Mandel’s portrayal of resilience. Resilience of not only the characters themselves but also of the continual belief in the importance of humankind’s connectivity through Art and Literature rather than that of violence and rage caused by scientific experiments gone wrong.
Leaving some questions within this reader’s mind, such as the purpose of the continual re-enactment of King Lear by the troupe, is favourable to further musings and conversations over a glass of wine or post-pandemic gin. Ms. St. John Mandel has written an allegorical novel that evokes not only vivid imagery of a post-apocalyptic world but also has the reader questioning their place in such a future should they survive the cataclysmic event.
Should you want to borrow Station Eleven, you can find it on the second floor of the RDC library or, if it has been checked out, within the NEOS system here.