Imagine the concept of global pandemic visualised in Contagion meets survival narrative of The Hunger Games, throw in a set of seemingly different yet fatefully connected characters and you have Station Eleven. Moving between the outbreak of Georgia Flu and the lives of fragmented and vulnerable survivors twenty years later, Station Eleven is an addictive read which forms a welcome addition to the multitude of books and films that explore human instinct and survival in the face of catastrophic events.
This was a landmark moment for Franny & Perks. Our first ever review copy sent to us as bloggers. Its importance was emphasised by its joint arrival alongside our snazzy business cards on the day of our official launch party. Sam Eades had nailed that postal timing.
First off, (criminally judging a book by its cover and all that), it is beautiful. Clearly Picador deemed it worthwhile of enjoyably thick paper and outstanding cover design. Artist, Nathan Burton, has written a blog post about his experience and gives a sneak peek at the comic spread, inspired by the novel, that will feature in the final book – it’s great.
Let’s return to the book.
The ‘key-stone’ of the cast is renowned actor, Arthur Leander, to whom all five other characters are in some way connected: his first wife, Miranda; his best friend, Clark; an audience member, Jeevan; child star in the making, Kirsten; and the ominously self-named ‘prophet.’ Exploring their lives both pre- and post-Georgia Flu breakout, the story gradually allows the reader to build a linear timeline through its wonderfully fragmented structure.
As the background of each character intertwined with that of another, I found myself reminded of the thoughtful complexity that Eleanor Catton so perfectly executed in The Luminaries. Though not her equal, Mandel shows true promise in the elegance of her plot – no link is too contrived, and the unexpected turns and revelations only add to the dark beauty that runs throughout.
There are some really beautiful elements to the book – Miranda’s comic book (from which the novel gets its name), the Museum of Civilisation (items collected by survivors to remember pre-pandemic life) and the Travelling Symphony (a group of actors and musicians performing Shakespeare to surviving settlements). Mandel has envisioned almost magical qualities to lighten a world fraught with disease and mistrust.
I enjoyed this novel and felt compelled to keep reading in the early hours to reach its end. Picador have proven themselves once again to be one of the leading talent spotters in the industry, following the stunning Burial Rites published earlier this year. Although it does not break new ground in subject matter nor was I left with a new insight to human behaviour, it was deeply tender and showed real promise of a new writing talent.