Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Station Eleven is set in an alternate-reality dystopia where the present-day world has been ravaged by a massive epidemic that wipes out 99% of the human race. It follows a small group of people both before and after the event, jumping back and forth between the recognizable world of today and the post-apocalyptic struggle for survival.
I didn't get the feeling that this novel is really about the disaster that wipes out most of the world's people. There's no real mystery about the epidemic, which happens almost immediately in the early chapters. No serious attempt is made to explain where it came from or why, just a vague reference to the "Georgia Flu" (the country, not the state).
No, this book is about relationships between the characters, and (for those that survive) how they deal with the new world. I found those characters to be well-defined and interesting to follow, for the most part. It's easy to feel a sense of empathy for both people we see only before the epidemic (like Arthur) and those who survived and struggle to build a new life (like Kirsten).
Unfortunately, the story's format makes it somewhat difficult to stay connected to those characters. It keeps moving back and forth across time - years before the epidemic, the immediate aftermath, twenty years after. I think the author was trying to set up a sense of mystery about how the people we see from the earlier times become those we see later on, but if that's the case then it didn't work for me. There are way too many small hints that make it obvious who "the prophet" is, for example. Or where Kirsten's comic books came from. The eventual explanations are anti-climatic since they're so obvious. I think it would have worked better with less back-and-forth across time, instead focusing on following one or two of the characters more closely.
I still enjoyed reading Station Eleven, even if the back-and-forth-across-time format wasn't to my taste. It's well-written, with a interesting exploration of how people might deal with such a massive change in the world.