Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A cautious but thorough endorsement
I had to consider for quite awhile what rating i wanted to give this novel. The fact I had to think about it is, of course, its own sort of endorsement.
Let’s start with some context. I am generally dubious of literary novels that try to reinvent the proverbial wheel when it comes to sff. This is something which happens a fair amount and is endlessly exasperating to prolific sff readers.
Reading through Station 11, I am still not entirely sure why some novels (eg Book of the Unnamed Midwife) are genre fiction while Station 11 or The Road get shelved as literary. They all carry, imo, a similar amount of depth and character exploration. BotUM probably has slightly better structure over all (again, subjective opinion here).
Nonetheless, however the book is shelved out in the wild, it was perfectly engaging to me and reads literary. The characters were well drawn and intriguing each onendrigen by a complex knot of motivations and experiences and each one clearly distinguished from the others. None were forgettable and there weren’t, for me, any “ugh” points of view. (This is always a potential pitfall in multi pov.)
The relationship between those characters was complex and nuancex but at times stretchex believability. So many coincidences and so much delicate timing had to line up for certain events to occur in the way that they did. Still, stranger things have happened in real life, and part of the novel’s themes is exploring the subtle network that runs between humans, and examining the ways in which we are all far more connected than we realise. So in that sense, perhaps the coincidences are themselves the point.
The other thing that made me waver in my rating was the fact that some of the storylines seemed to peter out. Mild spoilers: one of the main antagonists seems to fade abruptly from the storyline while one of the first pov characters from early on also seems to skirt most of the story. How much that bothers other readers will vary; i think i am probably being nitpicky, though.
The interweaving of the Station 11 comics was brilliantly done, though, and one of the main aspects which tipped me in favour of 5 stars instead of 4 was the overall hopefulness of the narrative. BotUM is extremely bleak and relentless in its portrayal of sexual violence; Station 11 handles such topics with deft redirection.
I suppose some readers will feel justified in saying that the violence and horror of a post apocalyptic world has been glossed over in their novel. But my counter is that we already have dozens of books which ‘wax eloquent’ on every facet of human misery. When it comes to novels which emphasise the possibility of rebirth, renewal, and healing, there are not so many in this genre.