'Station Eleven' presents a more positive view of a post-disaster world

While Mandel doesn't shy away from depicting the difficulties of post-disaster life in her new novel, reviewers are noting that her book, unlike many other apocalyptic tales, presents the survival of art forms like theater and music. 

'Station Eleven' is by Emily St. John Mandel.

The novel “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, which focuses on the time before, during, and after a flu pandemic, isn’t just getting attention for its positive reviews – it’s also being noted for its positive portrayal of life post-illness.

“Station,” which was published on Sept. 9, first focuses on a theater performance where an actor dies during the middle of production, then centers on an EMT who watches as almost the entire world is killed by an illness called the Georgia Flu. The book then fast-forwards to 15 years later, when an actress travels with an acting troupe to perform plays and music for those who are still alive. 

Post-apocalyptic scenarios are rarely positive – take, to name only two examples, the classic novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and the blockbuster young adult series “The Hunger Games.” But reviewers are noting that Mandel’s book embraces a different view while still depicting how difficult living would be in a desolate world.

The novel was named as one of Amazon’s best books of September, with editorial director Sara Nelson calling it “kind of touching because it's also about what survives – music and plays.” 

Of the book itself, New York Times critic Sigrid Nunez wrote, “Mandel is an able and exuberant story­teller, and many readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters’ lives and fates.” Of its view of a post-disaster world, however, Nunez noted that “the book falters… in its imagination of disaster… the survivors do not think, act or speak like people struck by such a cataclysm… readers may wonder why few bad guys appear to have made it to Year 20.” However, Nunez concluded, “If ‘Station Eleven’ reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”

Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly awarded the novel an A and wrote that the book is “not a story of crisis and survival. It's one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes,” while Publishers Weekly wrote that Mandel “finds a unique point of departure from which to examine civilization’s wreckage… St. John Mandel’s examination of the connections between individuals with disparate destinies makes a case for the worth of even a single life.” 

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