Eloquent Dystopian Writing


Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Mandel serves up here a postmodern, dystopian novel of great skill. Now that I’m done with labeling this book, let me tell you something more nearly relevant about this fine book. A flu virus takes on the world’s people, killing some ninety-nine percent of the population. As Mandel’s story begins, a noted actor, Arthur Leander, has a heart attack on stage, and the play, King Lear, falls apart about him, even as the world does the same. From this point, Mandel leapfrogs back and forth in time, taking us to a Shakespearean troupe touring, at great risk, the dystopian world, allowing us to see various characters in the pre-virus and post-virus time.


What Mandel does with this book pleases me on two counts. She makes this reader care about her characters, much as Meg Wolitzer does in her fine book, The Interestings. And where most postmodern writers simply give us a jumble of lives lived in all its randomness, Mandel awards us a ray of hope for her dystopian world. A metaphor, if you will, for twenty-first century life, in which peace, security, and happiness, seem forever at our horizon.

The author’s prose here is sometimes bland, but as she hits her stride, there are passages of great eloquence. While her vision attempts perhaps too much in this novel, straining to connect past to future, her jockeying structure holds together well and provides a fine, thoughtful read.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

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