Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book–but it’s amusing that at one point I observed to my daughter, “I like this book, but the author tends to get too ‘literary’ at times, and I get impatient with that.” Because, of course, I thought it was more a science fiction book and not a “literary” book when I picked it out of the audiobook lineup at my library and started listening, when the truth is that it’s a “literary” book with science fiction/dystopic tropes. (Not that I’m all that keen on the word “literary” as an identifier, but it seems to be the one that we’re stuck with.)

However, I think this goes to show that such distinctions are real. What I meant when I made that remark to my daughter was that there was, for my taste, too much introspection, too much thinking, too much considering the weight of everything by the characters. When the active story flagged too long for these things, that’s when I got impatient. Now, there are many flashbacks and time-jumps in this story, and I’m not necessarily talking about those. I’m talking about the places where the forward motion of the story is trumped by other things–such as characters lingering long and in detail over memories, conversations, relationships, interactions, and objects.

I like the fact that this novel has made me think about this distinction. It’s not that I’m against introspection and consideration of things that are fraught with meaning in a story. It’s just that I want those things that are fraught with meaning to also move the story along. Meaning alone is not enough for me. I want meaning and I want movement, and it’s the balance between those two things that contribute to the success of a book for me.

That said, the author does a decent job in her foray into the speculative elements of the book, and has created some intriguing characters. I’d recommend it if you are interested in seeing a generally well-done blending of literary and commercial genres, and if you like a well-thought-out disaster/aftermath story. The active storyline is worth tolerating some of the slower parts.

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