If you’ve read one post-apocalyptic book, you’ve read them all. People have been killed off by some disaster or war or pestilence, electricity and technology are backdrops in the oral history of man, and paranoia reigns. Station Eleven isn’t all that different, but it’s written with such intelligence and care that it stands out as being superior to your run-of-the-mill tale of apocalypse. Further, the book shifts between apocalypse, post-apocalypse, and pre-apocalypse, keeping the book from growing stagnant and relying too much on fear-mongering.
Having heard that Station Eleven was a post-apocalyptic novel, I was initially surprised by the modern day setting the story opens with. It’s jarring, but it soon becomes evident that Mandel intends to alternate between the different time lines and slowly fill in the blanks. She does so responsibly, building a complete picture one piece at a time that in the end is seamless. The use of an actor, performing Shakespeare in his final act, and of his many ex-wives, is an approach which opens up the post-apocalyptic story to a new feel. There’s even a slight Shakespearean feel to Station Eleven (without quite as many mistaken stabbings and unrequited loves).
In the end, I felt there were a few too many coincidences and things tied up a little too conveniently as far as plot. What at first seemed wholly original as much as a post-apocalyptic book can be, seemed to echo a bit too much of that mammoth of apocalyptic doom, <i>The Stand</i>. At least Mandel had the foresight to address her readers’ skepticism in the text itself, utilizing her more religious characters to ask questions of purpose and divine (authorial) intervention.
Overall, Station Eleven is engaging, inventive, and tender. It is likely to be a success. I think many will enjoy reading it, that is, assuming some plague doesn’t wipe us out first.