Station Eleven, written by Emily St. John Mandel, has been in my “TBR” (to-be-read) pile for a few years. I ended up reading it TWO WEEKS (early March) before the United States started quarantine efforts for COVID-19. As we know now, COVID-19 is now a pandemic, and reading a book about a pandemic and the ramifications of the pandemic during an actual pandemic felt surreal. Without being able to make correlations between the pandemic mentioned in the book and COVID-19, it was a captivating read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction.
Station Eleven navigates between two timelines that alternate throughout the book. The first timeline is the early days of the pandemic called the Georgia Flu (believed to have originated in the country of Georgia) and how society collapsed. As Day 0 is declared for the Georgia Flu, the production of King Lear takes place in Toronto, ON, which ends in tragedy as the main actor (Arthur Leander) dies onstage due to a heart attack. After the performance, an audience member who tried to perform CPR on the actor gets a warning that things are going to be much worse, so he goes to the grocery store to stock up on supplies and hunkers down with his brother, who is in a wheelchair. The audience member stocks up on pantry food, fresh food, toiletries, and more, which hit home because of how people were initially hoarding essential items in bulk when not everyone could afford to purchase items in bulk. At the time of reading this, people were starting to hoard toilet paper like crazy. Throughout this timeline, we see how quarantine is affecting both brothers and what happens when both of them realize they can’t stay in the apartment any longer.
The second timeline takes place 20 years after Day 0 of the Georgia Flu pandemic. We learn that a majority of the population was killed by the pandemic, and resulted in the society collapsing because modern technology could not be maintained: no mass transportation, no internet, no electricity, etc. One of the actors that were in the production of King Lear back in Toronto is now in a traveling theatre troupe that travels around the Great Lakes area to bring theatre, music, and entertainment to the villages in the area, including my hometown: Traverse City, MI. We find out that this actor is collecting stories and magazine clippings of Arthur to try and piece together her life before the pandemic. In one town, they discover that the leadership has changed since the last time they visited and the town is now being controlled by a cult. This cult plays a significant role in the lives of the troupe after they leave the town, which eventually leads to a confrontation between the troupe and the cult.
For my 2020 Reading Challenges, I used “Station Eleven for the following prompts and challenges:
- PopSugar Reading Challenge 2020: A book set in a country beginning with “C” [Canada]
- PopSugar Summer Reading Challenge 2020: A book about camping or summer camp
- Around the Year in 52 Books: A book related to one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse [Plague]
As a fan of theatre, I really appreciated how theatre played an important role in this book. In the first timeline, the story kicks off at the theatre. In the second timeline, we see how theatre is still happening and people appreciate that they can be distracted/entertained by theatre for one night. I currently volunteer for a non-profit community theatre, and like many organizations, we were affected by COVID-19. We’re not sure what the future looks like for theatre after the country starts to open again; will the actors have to wear masks on stage while in character? Will we have to cap audience sizes to limit crowds? It’s up in the air right now, but as the saying goes, the show must go on.
While I loved reading this book, if you want to escape the current events/stories of COVID-19, maybe wait to read “Station Eleven” until the pandemic has passed.