Station Eleven review: overhyped?

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel

read in December 2017

format: library (hardcover)

Read the synopsis here.

Spoiler-free review!

I am not the kind of person who goes into hyped books looking for reasons to hate it. But it occasionaly happens that I finish reading an incredibly popular book and think “I don’t understand why so many people love this”. Unfortunately, I felt this way after finishing Station Eleven.

I don’t think the hype swayed me. I borrowed this from the library because this has received so many raving reviews, but I didn’t have any expectations going into this. Nevertheless, this novel disappointed me.

Station Eleven is primarily a character-driven book. Don’t pick this up if you expect to learn much about survival after 99 percent of the population has died as the result of the Georgia flu, because Station Eleven is not that kind of novel.

I usually like multiple point-of-views and don’t mind a non-linear storyline, but it sadly didn’t work for me in this book. First of all, the characters weren’t very compelling. And since they were the most important part of the story, I was bored while reading this.

Clark for example – one of the protagonists – is queer (presumably gay). I read a lot of books featuring queer characters, yet I had the feeling that in Station Eleven it didn’t matter. Which I’m fine with, but since this is a character-driven novel, I find that odd. We never even got to read a scene between him and his boyfriend. The readers are supposed to care about the characters, but we hardly even get to know them!

The male characters sounded very pretentious, as if they were written by a male author. That’s not a compliment, because I don’t read many books by male authors because their characters are often insufferable. I had problems with Jeevan and Arthur’s behaviour in particular. Human beings are flawed, but I prefer characters to be more likeable than them. Arthur for example told the press he was leaving his wife for another woman because he was too afraid to tell her!

Thanks to the Prophet storyline the novel finally became more interesting, but the author could’ve done so much more with that plot! It was the only thing that made me intrigued to find out more, but it was ultimately a disappointment and dealt with in a rather anti-climatic way.

Each protagonist was connected with one another in same way, but I didn’t find that very meaningful. Hollywood star Arthur Leander is their main connection, though Shakespeare’s play and the Station Eleven graphic novels are fundamental as well. Admittedly, I am not the biggest Shakespeare fan. I have a hard reading poetry and classics because I don’t like to “dissect” while reading, so I ended up skimming most of those lines. Additionally, I didn’t care about Dr. Eleven either.

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as other readers did. I am not good at metaphors and I assume Dr. Eleven and Shakespeare made the novel beautiful, but I didn’t get it… I, however, don’t want to blame myself too much for not enjoying this. I’ve enjoyed plenty of other literary and adult fiction before and seen the beauty in those novels.

Sadly, there are also some more important stuff I had problems with. A lot of ableist language is used. I completely understand that “the end of civilisation” is frightening, but why is it associated with mental illnesses? I read another Post Apocalyptic novel a few weeks ago and it used ‘crazy’, ‘insane’, ‘lunatic’, etc. numerous times as well. As a mentally ill reader, those words make me very uncomfortable, especially because there was absolutely no need to use such ableist language.

Furthermore, it was rather “convenient” that the disabled character apparently committed suicide. It made me feel as if disabled people were an inconvenience and it was better to dispose of them before continuing the story.

I also didn’t appreciate the way one of Arthur’s ex-wives was referred to: she is a “actress/model” who is described as “looking malnourished”.

content and trigger warning for: religious cults, paedophilia, abuse, mentions and descriptions of death/murder and suicide, ableist language (see examples above and e.g. depressing used as a synonym for ‘sad’ instead of actually referring to the mental illness), rape

Sadly, Station Eleven didn’t live up to the hype for me. I didn’t find the characters compelling and the Post Apocalyptic setting could’ve been developed further. I would give this novel a three star rating, because it was overall just okay, nothing special.

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