Mini review: “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel (audiobook version)


I found this book when it came up as an Amazon recommendation.  I went with it because it had some amazing reviews.  I’m glad I did.

This is the story of a future where the majority of mankind was killed off over the course of a few weeks by a supremely virulent virus and the world now exists without electricity or fuel.  A few survivors have formed a group that travels around part of North America performing classical music and Shakespeare plays.  The main characters are all linked in some way to an actor who dies on stage one night shortly before the virus hit – how they are related is revealed over time.  The book moves between the characters and jumps back and forward in time.

I wondered at first if the book deserved all the praise but overall it does leave you looking at your surroundings in a new way, appreciating what we have achieved as a human race and thinking about all the things we take for granted.

This dystopian premise might put some people off as it is generally viewed as some sub-genre of science fiction (indeed, the book has won this year’s Arthur C Clarke award for best sci-fi novel of the year) but don’t ignore it just yet.  This is far from your typical science fiction.

I mostly listen to audiobooks these days but I actually started reading this story in “proper” book form before switching to audio.  One thing that I find interesting when comparing the two is that reading the book at first seemed to have more impact.  The author is very good at going along telling an interesting story and then out of the blue delivering a devastating line or plot twist that will influence all that follows.  For me, these lines had more impact when I was reading them rather than listening to them.

What is strange, then, is that I have nothing bad to say about the narration.  The English narrator does a good job and tackles American accents with aplomb.  There has obviously been a decision to tell the story in a slower, more deliberate way but this is successful and matches the story well.

This book is dystopian fiction but it’s possible that something like this could happen.  Earlier this year there was ebola and recently there has been MERS.  I keep a close eye on the news but had not heard about about this latest breakout – in fact I had not heard of Middle East respiratory syndrome at all.  This happened in South Korea but originated with a traveller returning to the country from Qatar.  Looking it up I found on The Guardian website (a bastion of responsible reporting):

• Hong Kong tests two people for Mers as alarm over virus grows

Middle East respiratory syndrome cases broken down by country

• Should I worry about catching Mers?

As I write, the first two articles were written in the last couple of days.  The last one was written in May 2014.  Under the headline it states: “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has no known cure and kills around a third of those who contract it”.

I suppose it wouldn’t take much for the next syndrome to be a lot more virulent and spread much quicker.  Maybe the world is doomed after all…

… in which case you could do a lot worse than spend some of your time reading this book.


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