The apocalypse is all the rage. From ‘The Walking Dead’ to ‘Interstellar’ the current theme tune for the world seems to be ‘It’s the End of the World as we Know it’. Even the literary novel is getting in on the act. Emily St. John Mandel’s latest ‘Station Eleven’ is set in a world devastated by a flu epidemic that has wiped out 99% of the world’s population.
The result is a gripping, nuanced and intelligent novel that contrasts our own personal apocalypse, death, with the wider plagues visited upon humanity.
At the heart of the plot is a once famous Hollywood star, Arthur Leander, around whose orbit the novel’s crucial characters intersect.
Leander dies unexpectedly on stage during a performance of King Lear on the same night that the ‘Georgia Flu’ epidemic arrives in North America. All plot lines lead back to this one defining incident and span out from it, taking in far-flung continents and traveling bands of classical musicians and actors who roam the world entertaining the masses with Shakespeare and Beethoven. For in this universe people want what reminds them only of the best humanity can offer.
As people reach for the best they also stoop to the worst as death cults appear. Their members proclaim that they are alive because they are ‘good’ and anyone who has died is by the same twisted logic ‘bad’.
All the while the novel flashes back to the pre-plague times of celebrity dinner parties and paparazzi. In the wrong hands this could be both confusing and irritating by equal measure but the book is so well thought out by the author that each flashback only serves to propel the plot, giving us new information that adds dimension and motive to each character.
In short the book makes hanging out in a post apocalyptic universe a positive pleasure.