Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015),
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015),
John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Novel (2015),
British Fantasy Award Nominee for August Derleth Award (best horror novel) (2015)
The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015)
Toronto Book Award Nominee (2015),
Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015),
National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014)
My wife, Shawn, could not wait for me to read Station Eleven. All the women at her office were reading this book in their book clubs and raving about it. She didn’t want to read it herself, but she really wanted to know just how literary it was.
OMG. So. Literary.
When I’m feeling ungenerous, I describe literary fiction as “empty stories about empty people.” Of course, when I’m feeling nice, I usually just shrug and mutter, “navel-gazing.” So, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan.
Its proponents will tell me that it’s all about character and well-turned, beautiful prose. Thing is, I like me some good prose, but you know what I like better? Plot.
Station Eleven is, ostensibly, about the end of the world, some actors, and a comic book.
The comic book in the book (meta!), I would have liked to have read, except I think, from its description, it also suffered from a lack of plot. At least it sounded lovely to look at. It also happened in space, which I’d kind of hoped this book would. But, alas, no.
Instead, here on Earth, there’s a super-virus called the Georgia Flu that kills off most of the world’s population in a matter of days. There’s a lot of hand-waving about how this flu works. At one point it gets described as a hyped up H1N1, but no animals besides humans are infected and it’s not entirely clear how the virus is transmitted or why it suddenly becomes inactive once the requisite damage is done. Also, I’ve played this game. It’s called Plague, Inc. The hardest places to infect are Madagascar and Greenland. Yet, there’s a sense in Station Eleven that everywhere in the world fell victim to the plague in exactly the same way. I’m not supposed to care about the plague, though, because this book isn’t about the plague or how it works. Because that would be science.
This is about people. Thus, the story follows a washed-up, once famous actor who died of a heart attack just before the flu hit Toronto: a child actor who was on stage when he died, who survives, and a bunch of random people including the actor’s ex-wives and best friend that I was supposed to care about but never did.
Admittedly, I was sort of interested in the child actor, Kirsten, who survives into the post-plague world. She had the least sad and meaningless life, probably because she’s hooked up with a traveling symphony and acting troupe that is attempting to continue bringing Shakespeare and the arts to the world under the banner “Survival is Insufficient,” which is taken from a Star Trek episode. Also, she has the most actual plot, as the troupe is harassed and attacked by a crazed band of marauders that follows a mysterious cult leader known as the Prophet. Stuff happens to her.
But, action and plot are for rubes. Thus, the majority of the book is a series of vignettes about how art is life or life is art or… relationships are hard… or fuck if I know, but it is deep and very poignant, I’m sure.
Despite being set in at the beginning and during the apocalypse, the whole book had a very First World problems feel to it. There was some attention to survival issues – in Kirsten’s parts, anyway – but not a lot. When my mind wandered during the sections where rich, handsome actors and their empty friends suffered through their meaningless lives I spent far too much time all-caps-ing in my mind things like: DOES NO ONE EAT ANYTHING BUT DEER, WHERE ARE YOU GETTING CLEAN WATER, OMG THE TOILETS STILL FLUSH AT THE AIRPORT?? NO, SO MUCH NO–ALSO, LADIES, I’M GLAD YOU HAVE ART, BUT WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR TAMPONS…??!!??
I blame the last one on Book of the Unnamed Midwife, which was this story, but with plot and a real point.