A troop of actors travel the post-apocalyptic world, performing Shakespeare to the lone survivors of a flu that ended the world as we know it — how cool is this idea? And their motto? Painted on the side of their caravan a line from a Star Trek episode: Because survival is insufficient.
The book is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a speculative fiction, sometimes classified as pastoral post-apocalypse, I guess because it spares us the doom and gloom visions of roaming gangs and cannibalism. Instead it concentrates on the role of art in a world after the collapse. In a world with no airplane travel, no refrigerated food, no social media, no garbage pickup — what can become of an indie comic book? And does Shakespeare still make any sense?
Station Eleven is a patchwork novel, sewn together from pre- and post-apocalypse moments. It’s written in a non-linear way, the story jumps back and forth in time, changes POVs to the point that it’s impossible to tell who, if anyone, is the book’s main protagonist. Mandel’s style of writing reminded me of macro photography: no epic, panoramic shots, but instead intimate closeups. Like when you find out that Kirsten, “the best Shakespearean actress in the territory” is missing several teeth — nothing dramatic, yet so evocative.
If there was one thing that jarred for me in this novel, it was the number of coincidences. I couldn’t decide if Mandel was working from the theory of six degrees of separation, and that’s how after 99% of humanity died, the remaining 1% ended up so entangled in each other’s pasts, or was it just a sloppy way of tying together different stories that the author wanted to tell.
Still, a very enjoyable read.
I’m not sure why, but I expected this book to be a little humorous. It’s not. Nostalgic — yes, definitely not humorous. Now that I think about it, I can recall only a single time that a protagonist cracked a joke (Jeevan administering to a wounded woman). Isn’t it a little odd? Don’t you think that in post-apocalyptic circumstances humor would be at least as essential as art?