Goodreads tells me it took me nearly five months to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. That is between October 5, 2020 and February 10, 2021. Quite a long time to read a mere 333 pages of prose. While I am not the world’s speediest reader, five months for a novel this length is pretty long even for me.
I jumped into the book knowing nothing about it on the recommendation of a friend. And, boy howdy, was it a humdinger. Eight months into heavy COVID, and I am greeted to a post-apocalyptic novel about a world ended by a super flu. I found the whole setup a little TooCloseToHome dot com for me and had to put it down after a little while, hence the protracted reading period. And if you’re worried about spoilers, this all happens within the first chapter of the book.
It’s not that the novel is bad. Not at all. It’s fantastic. Compelling characters. Beautiful prose. A lushly painted world. But it was causing me all sorts of anxiety reading it, and in October of 2020 I just was not in the headspace to finish it. So, I spent some time with some horror novels and short stories and came back to the book when I felt a little more balanced. Which, doing the math, must have been around when the girls were born. Makes sense. While the pandemic hadn’t lifted, a vaccine was in sight and Trump had lost. Two major stressors out of the way allowed me to dig back in without losing my dang mind.
Would I recommend this one? You bet. If you’re happy to experience a beautifully-written, time-hopping story in which the plot is a distant second to the inner lives of the characters, then this one is for you. St. John Mandel has a gothic sensibility with the way she treats the ephemerality of life after the end of the world as it contrasts to the always-on, always-available life before. It is almost poetic, a meditation on how easily things come and go and how fragile our lives actually are.
Plus, there’s an adaptation coming out on HBO any day now. You might as well spend less than five months with the novel before binging the show.