I’m no novice to the world of apocalypse fiction, having cut my teeth on Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ when I was 13 years old. The virus apocalypse, the zombie apocalypse… honestly, it’s my favourite genre.
So when I kept seeing Station 11 recommended as a stand-out apocalyptic fiction book, written by a woman no less, I was eager to dive in.
I’d describe this novel as softly written… lingering like a nice mellow merlot. There is no cataclysmic event (Without Warning). No grand worldwide scale (World War Z). No good-vs-evil implications (The Stand). No abject and unrelenting hopelessness (The Road). The novel unfolds slowly, using changing individual perspectives and time-jumps to tell the story from multiple character angles. I was expecting a novel that would thrust me into action and keep me turning pages with bated breath, but instead I got a gentle examination of not only the downfall, but the aftermath of the end of most of the world.
The webs that spin out to tell the story centre around the death of Arthur Leander, a fictional hollywood-turned-stage-actor who looked like Geoffrey Rush in my mind’s eye. So was he bitten by a rabid monkey? Did he stumble upon an ancient cursed artefact? Oh oh! Maybe he was a scientist who encountered a virus released through melted permafrost?! Not even close. In the first chapter, Arthur dies on stage while performing King Lear. His death is not linked to the flu virus that subsequently wipes out 99% of humanity, but he is the linchpin who links our characters as they tell their small stories of the end of the world and the years that follow.
The story was well-told and far-reaching, examining aspects of the downfall and years that follow in a way that I hadn’t encountered before. The concept of a travelling band of actors and musicians who continue to diligently spread the works of William Shakespeare to the few remaining settlements across Norther America was particularly delightful. I fell a little bit in love with each character, as they were all simply doing the best they could with the hand they were dealt.
In hindsight, I wish I had known going in that the usual frenetic pace of apocalypse fiction would not present in Station 11. It didn’t match my expectations, so I spent the first few chapters feeling a bit let down. However, when I finished the final page, I was supremely satisfied. I felt like returning to the beginning and trying again, this time without a cloud of expectation.
I also wish I hadn’t read this novel at the start of cold and flu season in Australia…
4 feverish chills out of 5.