Station Eleven has had a lot of hype. It has been short listed for a ton of awards, John Wilson (from Books and Culture) loved it, a lot of people that I know really liked it.
And I thought it was ok. A solid, but not earth-shattering end of the world novel.
There are a lot of characters and none of them are really the main character. Station Eleven moves back and forth between characters and from before the fall of civilization to after the fall. By the end, there is at least the hint of a complete story, connecting all the various characters and times.
The fall is caused by a swine flu variant called ‘The Georgian Flu’. In a matter of hours from contamination, with basic flu symptoms, 199 out of 200 people die. Within a few days complete panic has hit. Within a few weeks civilization has completely collapsed. The electric grid goes down, transportation stops because no one can get gas (and what gas is available goes bad in a few years.) The sheer size of the devastation (and the fear of a reoccurrence of the outbreak) keeps people in small groups and afraid of strangers.
Many of the reviews of Station Eleven talk about how unique Station Eleven is and how refreshing a take on the post apocalyptic story it is. And I agree that it is a well written story. And it is more hopeful than Cormac McCarthy, but almost anything is more hopeful than Cormac McCarthy.
In Station Eleven, there is a traveling band of musicians and actors that perform classical music and Shakespeare. They are preserving culture and the old stories when not everyone is sure that the old stories are worth preserving.
The traveling ‘symphony’ illustrates the hope that is in the book with the quote from Star Trek Voyager painted on one of their wagons, “Survival is Insufficient.”
Station Eleven is far from a bad book. I enjoyed it, although it felt like the story took forever to get started and then only scratched the surface of what was possible to tell. There were so many characters that spending a little time with them all felt like too little time to get to know the characters.
I fell into the trap of hype that Station Eleven could not live up to.