When the coronavirus crisis began, I was reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. While I’m sure it’s an excellent novel, I couldn’t read a book about a pandemic while I was in a pandemic.
It took six months before I was ready to read anything about an infectious disease spreading out of control.
That book was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
It’s an excellent novel. The plague, when it occurs, is brutally short and efficient, wiping out 99% of the world’s population.
Mandel is less concerned with the pandemic but what happens before and after to her characters, who range from a world-famous actor to an aspiring EMT. All are caught up in the whirlwind; some of them survive and some do not.
While the novel was written before coronavirus, Mandel has illuminated the central truth of the crisis: a sense of wonder at the world before covid turned everything upside down.
Little moments of life before the pandemic are full of meaning, recalled with fondness and nostalgia. I remember the last time I went to a bar, squeezing with friends around a small table, shouting to be heard above the crowd.
In Station Eleven, survivors express wonderment about a society where cold drinks were available everywhere and planes traversed a landscape bright with electricity.
It’s a moving novel for it highlights that life is not about grand accomplishments but about the joys of having tea with an old friend or how the gift of a comic book can inspire a young reader.
Ultimately, it’s an optimistic novel. Station Eleven is a dystopia but one where people struggle on the best they can, with compassion and grace.