I began reading “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel during the first week of the semester and it was so difficult for me to put down! Within the first pages of chapter 1, we are immediately catapulted into the Elgin Theatre of Toronto with a birds eye view of the tragic death that was to unfold. During the theatrical performance of “King Lear” we begin to notice actor Arthur Leander’s approaching fate when his voice becomes “wheezy” and “barely audible”, (Mandel 3). As his condition grows more apparent, an audience member who was a training paramedic named Jeevan lunges at the stage to catch him just before his loss of consciousness. As Arthur’s final moments become the performance on stage, chaos and disorder soon erupts when the quiet theater performance turns into “a clamor of voices, flashes from cellphone cameras, indistinct exclamations in the dark”, (Mandel 4). Soon, the scene of Arthur Leander’s demise is described as “more like a terminal… a train station or an airport, everyone was passing quickly through”,(Mandel 5). Jeevan selflessly made it his mission to save Arthur, as he was the first to be aware of his condition yet he was forgotten and unacknowledged the moment paramedics arrived to the theater, ultimately failing to revive Arthur. Jeevan even takes action in comforting a young cast member, Kirsten Raymonde, who watches the scene alone and traumatized. What took me by surprise was the paramedic’s efforts to make Arthur’s corpse appear somewhat “stable” as his lifeless body is exited on a gurney with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, in attempt to hold off the hungry paparazzi that fed the public eyes fixed on Arthur. Jeevan’s efforts of aiding the situation disappointed him greatly being that he essentially didn’t save Arthur and being that his girlfriend, who was also present during the performance, had disappeared after the unraveling of the tragedy, abandoning Jeevan in the cold wintry storm awaiting him outside.
Following such a disorder, the theater atmosphere transitioned to murmurs and small conversation regarding Arthur’s family and children. With death hanging heavily in the air, Kirsten is inconsolable until she is given a paperweight that she decides is “the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the strangest thing anyone had ever given her”, (Mandel 15). There is a hint of relief in the air as we read of stage crew members drinking tequila and conversing of the life lost in front of their own eyes; this to me felt like the calm before the storm. Mandel finishes the brief chapter by showing us the future of those remaining in the theater, which was death. “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city”, (Mandel 15). A dark presence of foreshadowing is instantly casted with this line, revealing a sort of juxtaposition of the one death that took place that day with the many deaths that were to follow.
Jeevan had just calmed himself from the turmoil that unfolded at the theater when he is informed by “his closest friend” Hua that an outbreak of the Georgia Flu was unwinding, with the catalyst being an arriving flight from Moscow the previous night. Hua is extremely informative and stresses the intensity of this outbreak to Jeevan when he says, “You told me to call you if their was ever a real epidemic”, (Mandel 18). Jeevan’s paranoia and anxiety are heightened as he becomes aware of his surroundings and aware that Hua has been treating Georgia Flu patients all day, fully exposed to start of a catastrophe. Within the same page and only a few lines further, the urgency of this epidemic is now extremely life threatening when Hua calls Jeevan back coughing and demanding he leaves the city entirely. The seriousness of this flu is evident and and prompts Jeevan to realize that there wasn’t enough time, even for Hua who was being consumed by the flu himself. Hua’s call sort of saves his life in a way, even though we do not know yet if Jeevan completely survives the epidemic that was unfolding. His instinct to survive and prepare is followed by shopping carts full of essentials like food and water on Mandel 21, in attempts to save his own life this time around.
My favorite chapter is the final chapter of Part 1, when Mandel goes on with an “incomplete list” of the things that would cease to exist following the eruption of this deadly outbreak among them. All of the efforts and footprints of mankind would be erased, all of our knowledge of life and civilization would be obliterated. Mandel writes, “No more countries, all borders unmanned…” on page 31 to show how our separation of communities and ways of life are useless now that the human race was consumed by this flu. All of our precious technology wasn’t of importance anymore if the creators were gone, which rang a similar bell to Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains”. There is no life as we remember it when we are wiped off the face of the Earth, only the desolate lands we once occupied and the sounds of nature regaining it confidence and solitude.