In Station Eleven Mandel describes what happens when the earth’s population is drastically reduced by the Georgian Flu. All the things we take for granted (electricity, I-phones, internet, blogging, running water or food) have gone. Survivors have to start over again. They have to rely on their own common sense, creativity, aggressiveness or religious fervour (=madness). Mandel introduces several characters who all share a (kind of) relationship with actor Arthur Leander (who dies of a heart attack on page 1). Since they do not all survive the flu we meet some of them in the years or even hours before the flu and others after the flu has struck. This leads to a lively composition jumping from year to year. I must admit that I was least impressed by life after the flu. The exhortations of theatre group Travelling Symphony and of the Prophet reminded me too much of Mad Max, The Road or Blade Runner, never getting to their level. I was very impressed on the other hand by Mandel’s descriptions of the final moments of people dying or facing a totally different world. The death of Miranda for instance could have become a terrible cliche. Mandel fortunately takes it to another, impressive level. The way Jeevan and Clark face a new world is also described impressively. Level-headed, not beating around the bush. Clark who through sheer luck has been left on a flu free airport survives through making tough choices. He and the other survivors on the airport know that there are people on board of the airplane that was last to land. They stay away from it because they know those people have been infected. They do not help, they chose to live. In this way they also send a rapist to certain death into the woods, he cannot stay if he does not behave properly.
Clark collects items from the ‘old’ world and slowly starts gathering more and more artefacts. His collection of I-phones, high heeled shoes and motorcycles becomes an museum. At the end of the novel The Travelling Symphony and The Prophet arrive at the airport and fight their final battle. Kirsten, an actress in the Symphony, turns out to own a comic book, Station Eleven, given to her by Arthur Leander which he also gave to his son, who turns out to be the Prophet and which was written by Arthur’s first ex: Miranda. The comic bears a striking resemblance to reality after the flu.
At the end of the novel Mandel expertly brings things together. Only one character is not present at the airport – in person or in memory: Jeevan. I suspect he is living in the village that can be seen from the airport’s control tower: it has electricity. Civilization is slowly starting to return to earth.