Station Eleven – 2*

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

This will likely be a controversial opinion as I am well aware how beloved this book seems to be, but I will admit that on the whole I did not like it. I am going to try and say some nice things about it, I didn’t hate the book, but it did make me angry at points and that coloured my opinion of it very strongly so I may have failed to see other good things in it as a result.

It is a well written book, not remotely helped by the blurb on the back of the book. This isn’t really a story about the woman mentioned, it’s an interwoven tale jumping between points before a disease wipes out a lot of humanity, and points years afterwards as the survivors are trying to put society back together.

I did like that overall this is quite a positive story. A lot of post apocalyptic fiction these days is pretty grim and horrible with little hope for the future and this was very much not that sort of thing, so I do find it a shame on that front that I did not like this book as I could do with more positive stuff to read.

My main dislike of the book comes down to points to do with its treatment of mental and physical disabilities and trauma. This is mild spoilerific, but not massively so. Early on in the book we are introduced to one of the PoV characters’ brother, who is in a wheelchair. When they are running low on supplies after the outbreak and need to head out, the disabled brother commits suicide because he apparently decides that he cannot possibly survive out there so decides not to try.

At a later point, also dealing with the direct aftermath of the outbreak, there is a group of survivors all together in an airport. A young woman, seventeen years old I think, asks around about anti-depressant medication because she has run out. No one has any, she goes through a few days of withdrawal and then walks off into the forest along with none of her stuff and I read an implication there that she has also gone to commit suicide.

These incidents are the main way in which we see physical or mental disabilities portrayed in the book and they are done in a way that suggests that such people cannot possibly survive in this new world and that made me deeply, deeply angry. I do not see why she included these and found them to be insulting and awful in a fundamental way that I just could not get over.

She also seems to glide over the effects of trauma on all of the other survivors. Brief mention is made of them all suffering some sort of trauma because of what they have been through, but we don’t really see it for the most part. I can understand, when you want to do a more positive take on things why you might not want to dwell on it, but some deeper nod to how that would have affected them would have been nice, especially in light of the above examples which she included for reasons beyond my understanding.

I mean, this wasn’t the only thing I disliked, but it did make it very hard for me to like anything else in the book as a result of it being included. I will admit I also found it didn’t quite live up to what I hoped to see. I would have preferred a narrative that did a better job of evoking the idea that we need more than survival as a species. There were hints of it: the comics, the orchestra, someone starting a newspaper, the museum of the world before the outbreak, but I felt like a thin story was plastered over those themes rather than being fully explored. In fact the main plot, such as it was, felt very thin and more as though someone had told her that there needed to be some sort of plot rather than because it was all that important and that being the case, I would rather have done without it entirely and had something else in its place.

Unfortunately I cannot recommend this one personally, though plenty of people do enjoy it so it may well be your thing, but it certainly isn’t mine.