Not everyone one loves non-linear plot lines so in order to make Station Eleven accessible to all I took it upon myself to chart the timeline out for everyone and have included it for reference below.
Station Eleven has one of the more interesting set ups I have seen. It is nominally a post apocalyptic tale that deals with a select few survivors of a civilization ending strain of flu. Many of the familiar trappings are there; wandering bands of survivors, fascinating looks at a new life without old technologies, even a prophet emerging from the chaos consolidating power for his own vision.
But the base of the story is more Citizen Kane than Mad Max. The Rosebud of the story is an aging actor named Arthur who dies on stage in the opening scene of the story. His life and death have nothing to do with the death of humanity, in fact he dies the day the ‘Georgian Flu’ hits North America and is never aware of what is coming. But everyone in the book is in some way tied to him, directly or through his works, and it is one story at a time building to a larger connection that brings the whole cast together.
This is a slower paced book but incredibly well crafted. Each story drops a small hint, be it in the time of rebuilding, the hectic final days of modern humanity, or at times years before when everything was normal and problems much more mundane. The story is interesting, and questions will be answered, but it is tough to say whether there is any sort of payoff so a readers satisfaction will probably vary based on expectations. Personally I loved it; a complete memoir of life and fame hidden in the end of the world. But with its slow pace and lack of any major, central question your mileage may vary.
If there is a weakness in the book it comes from the believably of the post collapse world and in some ways the collapse itself. Yes, the very set up of the novel is the hardest to buy. The speed the sickness spreads world wide is quite insane and near complete start over humanity is going through doesn’t add up. Is there no mechanical lathe still around? Scavenging is effective but manufacturing shouldn’t have stopped. But since in reality all the post apocalyptic setting is just staging for a larger story it doesn’t’ really matter.
This is more quirky indie film than summer blockbuster. It is smart and interesting and worth reading but nothing really memorable. The setting works because of its small scale and unanswered questions but doesn’t beg for further expansion. Station Eleven is a book I am glad to have read but it is a style that really could only work once. It’s uniqueness is part of its charm and covers up for some of its weaknesses.