I was attracted to Station Eleven by the short description,it smacked of Commedia dell'arte: a post-apocalyptic tale of new-troubadours desperate to keep music and performance alive in a time of death. I was captivated, however, by the author's format in story telling.
Emily St. John Mandel starts this book off like almost any other book about the apocalypse. People are doing things so high-up on Maslow's hierarchy of needs to demonstrate how far or bad they are about to fall. The book opens in a theater, where stuff happens. Shortly thereafter humanity loses its shit.
Years after the collapse, we meet the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and a troupe of Shakespearian actors who merged and travel the north-central former United States and Canada, entertaining folks. Star Trek gave a member of the Symphony the quotation “Because survival is insufficient.” and it has become their guiding light. Life on the road is very hard, but it is their life.
The book temporally jumps all over the place, telling the life story of a famous Hollywood actor who died the night before the world fell apart, and following some key players in his life through their experience of the new world order. The jumps are connected, but disjointed. The story is touching, occasionally heart-rending, and utterly meaningless to the destiny of the folks who survive the actor. The interactions with him helped make them who they are, they may inform some decision-making, and perhaps even scarred one or two for life, but they mostly serve to show how everyone's concerns about everything beyond survival are either immaterial or amazingly important.
St. John Mandel doesn't answer the question of survival being truly insufficient. The book suggests art may be most valuable when simply practiced for one's own need, sanity, enjoyment or otherwise. The titular artifact in the story, 'Station Eleven' is the name of a comic book/imaginary satellite of human survivors after a 'fictional' loss of the Earth to humanity. It is mostly written in private, almost never shared with anyone and likely the most important piece of art in the story.
I would love to read the fantasy comic and learn more about Dr. Eleven and the Undersea.
Aside from walking my dogs, and getting my work done, I read this book non-stop.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel via Amazon