station“The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”

Those who know my reading habits well will be aware that I am rarely one to follow the crowd. When a book is held up with everyone saying, “You have to read this NOW!” I will usually turn the other cheek. I’ll read what I want to read when I want to read it. Oh sure, I’m not saying I always ignore the trends – Rowling, Fforde and Coupland all appear in my library within days of their releases – but I’ve long been wary of popular novels. We all remember The Da Vinci Code, after all.

However, I went against my self-programming the other week and picked up Station Eleven, which has appeared on every “must read” list I’ve encountered for the last couple of months and is stacked in Waterstone’s in pyramids to rival those in Giza. I read the blurb and decided it sounded pretty interesting, and so here we are: a review that’s actually fairly current.

Our story begins on a cold and snowy night in Toronto where Arther Leander, a famous actor who is performing the lead in King Lear in the role of a lifetime, drops dead on stage. Among the witnesses are child actor Kirsten Raymonde, and trainee paramedic Jeevan Chaudhary, the latter of whom attempts to save Leander’s life, but fails. On that same night, a deadly virus that has been spreading in eastern Europe arrives in North America and the effects are swift and brutal: within two hours of catching it you are taken sick; within forty-eight, you are dead.

Society collapses, travel becomes heavily restricted and the world will never be the same again, with an estimated 99% of the population now dead. The story picks up twenty years later where Kirsten, now older, wiser and sadder, journeys around North America with the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who pass through settlements and perform music and Shakespeare plays for the survivors. When they encounter a prophet who claims that the plague was divine intervention, their lives begin to get even more difficult as they struggle on and away from him and his men, on to find some saner survivors.

Interspered with this story are flashbacks to the past, telling the stories of Jeevan and Kirsten, but also Leander, his ex-wife Miranda, his best friend Clark and the prophet, as they live their lives both before and after the end of the world. The plots tie together and points become clearer has time goes on, and civilization shows no sign of recovery.

So is the book worth the hype? I’m not sure. I enjoyed it – I like a good dystopia, and in this one the world is displayed in a rather honest and believable style – but I wouldn’t rank it as one of the greats of contemporary literature. The idea that, twenty years after the world has ended, there’s a group still determined to perform Shakespeare and bring moments of entertainment to the daily struggle of the survivors is wonderful, and so very human. While most are cynical and there are many issues and those who try to use the circumstances to better themselves, humans once again show that, deep down, they aren’t all that bad.

The interweaving stories work well together, although some are certainly more interesting than others, although I suppose that’s down to personal preference. I prefer the stuff set after the collapse, although there are a lot of things set up in the flashbacks to normality that then develop fruit in the post-apocalyptic world. We get to see the world fall a few times, from different viewpoints in different locations. Miranda is on a beach in Malaysia when she gets the news. Jeevan is hiding in his brother’s apartment, watching the lights of the city and the television channels wink out one by one. Clark is stuck in an airport with fifty other would-be passengers who decided to stick around when their flights had been cancelled or diverted, never to take off again.

The title, Station Eleven, refers to a comic book that Miranda has been working on about a scientist stuck on a spaceship disguised as a planet, that crops up again and again, to be mentioned by Miranda (who wrote it), Leander (who saw its construction) and Kirsten (who ends up with a copy) and is used to compare the state of that world with the state of the one the characters are stuck in. There’s also an attempt at a comparasion to Shakespeare himself, saying that he too lived in a plague-ridden world with no electricity, but it feels a little heavy-handed and perhaps unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book, smart and with certain glimmers of hope through the text that even after the end of everything, humanity will find a way to survive and, in their own way, flourish, but I still will never be able to explain its explosive popularity. If you like dystopia, then add this one to your reading list, but I wouldn’t hurry you.

If you want to help me on my way to achieving explosive popularity, then please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords and other associated locations. Thanks!