One of the things that makes this book unique is that it is a more of a story of the re-building of the world than it is a story of its unraveling, though it is both stories at the same time. The past is intricately woven with the present through people’s memories, through objects that become artifacts, and through art. A wide-ranging cast of characters are connected by coincidence and by the necessities of surviving after nearly everyone has been wiped out by a flu epidemic.
A New York Times bestseller, the quotes from reviewers are always telling about how a particular book is positioned in the world of literature, generally, and the “burgeoning post-apocalyptic” genre specifically. Several reviews mention other authors or works, including The Road and Cormac McCarthy, but in these mentions, Station Eleven is also compared to writers known for their character development like Joan Didion and James Joyce. And in any review of post-apocalyptic fiction, a reference to Orwell is inevitable. But what these quotes reveal is the author’s ability to connect numerous strands and unfold them in a compelling way.
Another unique feature of this book is its ability to portray an international, borderless future even as our mechanisms for creating such a world, like air travel and the internet, disappear. The first border that becomes invisible is the one between Canada and the United States as characters migrate from Toronto, walking south into what used to be Michigan. Another border disappears as passengers from a variety of domestic and international flights are stranded in an airport, survive the flu epidemic, and build a new community. The divisions of the old world are obsolete.
While this book is certainly not among the genre of young adult dystopia that I write about in Girls on Fire: Transformative Heroines in Young Adult Dystopian Literature, Mandel brings us the character of Kirsten Raymonde, who certainly qualifies as a Girl on Fire, even if she is not the protagonist and she has had to abandon girlhood for survival. Instead, she is a character embedded in a community and a touchstone for connecting the past with the future. She is eight years old when the flu pandemic strikes and she survives a number of dangers on the road as a child and lives a kill or be killed existence into adulthood. She is an important Girl on Fire—one who has to fight for her life and to protect others as well as one who helps to sustain art through her Shakespeare performances and her role in the traveling symphony. Kirsten’s story unfolds on a new horizon.
Like most every good book, Station Eleven leaves the reading wanting more. We are left out of some conversations while we are privy to others. We are left with questions about characters who are briefly highlighted and then disappear into the backstory. We are left with questions about what happens next. The loop of the past closes while the road to the future is left wide open.