Stranger than Fiction
Everything was silent and because I was reading a rather intense moment in the story when the pandemic is at its peak and major systems are starting to shut down, I also had a moment of panic. The drama of the story was spilling into my real life and I had trouble separating the two. It took me a moment to shake the illusion of danger and remember where I was.
After another silent stop or two, the speakers finally came back on and all was well. But that small reassurance didn’t keep me from looking around suspiciously at my fellow commuters. All of whom were way too close to me for comfort despite the policy of staying one meter apart. I couldn’t wait to get off that train, and that was the last time I’ve taken public transportation in recent weeks. The whole experience shook me a little.
DON’T READ THIS BOOK IF…
It was probably stupid of me to start reading Station Eleven again during this time as the book is about a sweeping, global pandemic that eradicates the majority of the population and how those left behind survive and start to rebuild their world with what little is left. (A very brief summary of Station Eleven!)
However, I’d read the book a few years ago and loved it. Written in 2014, I doubt Emily St. John Mandel had any idea that her novel would hit so close to home just six years later. I’d actually been wanting and planning to read it again just a few months ago. One of my book clubs even decided that would we read it for the month of April or May as there were several members like me who wanted to read it again, especially in light of the then mild situation that had only touched Asia at that point.
But as COVID-19 spread across the world, so did my panic as I was reading this brilliantly written book.
Station Eleven Summary
One scene in particular was eerily relevant to me. When Miranda is standing on the beach in Malaysia with Singapore just across the water looking out at all of the still ships just sitting in the ocean because they have nowhere to go, I was, at the same time I read that scene, sitting on the southern end of Singapore looking at all the container ships sitting idly in the water with nowhere to go because of all the closed borders. Too close. It was just too close.
I’m not typically a worrier or an anxious person. I have more of an optimistic, idealistic outlook that generally allows me to believe everything will be fine. So considering this story had me panicking a bit, I don’t think I’d recommend anyone with a more negative outlook on life or a worrier to pick this up right now. When it’s all said and done, then yes, give it a read and be grateful that things never got as bad as they were in the book.
That being said, I managed to finish the book. There’s enough character development and interwoven stories in Station Eleven that the pandemic and the new world it leaves in its wake is the setting but not necessarily the crux of the story. Emily St. John Mandel (I just love her name. So romantic!) weaves a beautiful tale, shifting back and forth in time, of characters that show us what before and after looks like. She does this seamlessly, piecing the stories together until the puzzle is complete.
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
Without throwing it in our faces, Emily St. John Mandel gently brings up issues that cause pause for thought such as survival of the human spirit. Even in the midst of the greatest disaster the world has ever seen, those who remain find meaningful ways to survive. And none of us really need that much, but one thing we all need is each other. We cannot survive alone and stay sane.
There’s also the obvious theme of missing what you had and appreciating the small things such as seeing a plane in flight. A common sight that no one thinks much about, but I know for myself, when I see a plane now, during this time, it makes me pause. I wonder who’s on it and where it’s coming from and going to. It makes me nervous, wondering if the virus is traveling on the plane as well. But it also makes me long for when we’ll be able to travel again and reconnect with those in other countries. In just a few short weeks, something that was unbelievably common has suddenly become something miraculous and seemingly unreachable for the time being.
Station Eleven also brings to light how fragile our world really is. It really wouldn’t take too much for the whole thing to come crumbling down. This surprisingly doesn’t terrify me because there’s simply nothing to do about it. We live our lives day to day and do our best until we can’t do any more.
One of the main characters, Clark, makes some decisions about his hair and beard throughout the story. It is through these actions that one of the most interesting questions surfaces. At what point do you let go? When do you decide that the old ways are really, truly gone, and it’s time to set some new rules. And then what should those rules be?
I loved how Clark moved from trying to maintain what was previously normal by shaving his beard and keeping his hair trimmed to letting it grow longer and finally shaving off half of it while leaving the other half as he had in his youth. He threw the rulebook out the window and decided to set a new norm.
What would you let go of if you were faced with this situation?
I know the first thing I would do, which may seem ridiculous, is stop wearing a bra! New norm, new form. Freedom!
And finally, the big one: regrets. We see two characters, one who has a lifetime full of regrets and the other whose mantra is “I repent nothing.” To be at the end of your life and look back on years of decisions that you regret… how completely devastating.
I have several things that I am determined to accomplish, or at least give my best effort, because it’s those things that I couldn’t stand to look back and regret. I want to look back and be able to say I repent nothing because every decision I made, especially the big ones, were purposeful and meaningful. In the end, I want to love those around me well, and I want to write a novel.
Have you thought about this? Have you thought about what you would regret if you hadn’t accomplished it in this life? Might be something to think about.
So what do you think? Will you give Station Eleven a try or stay far away from it until this global crisis is long gone.
**Affiliate links used throughout this summary of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel