Before the After

“this illness […] was going to be the divide between a before and an after, a line drawn through his life.” p.20

If it is possible, when I begin reading a new book, I like to ignore the blurb and go straight into the text. I find that the state of immersion is different. With Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, I found myself drawn in by the pacing, which seemed slow at first but almost immediately kicked off with conflict. Throughout the first part there were many instances where the past and it’s relation to the present is brought up. This leads me to believe that this will become a recurring theme throughout the novel, or the very least an idea of playing with our perception of time.

One of my favorite instances of perceptive play in Part 1 is on page 15 when Mandel misdirects the readers,

“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.” p.15

The first sentence feels reasonable, a man just died, no one knows how long we have to live, except the omniscient narrator, of course. Finding out who outlived who doesn’t seem like irrelevant information, just a natural conclusion. The second sentence is what makes the information shocking, not only did the waiter die a lot earlier than the readers anticipated, they died on a road out of the city. This carried several implications with it and alluded to the soon to come apocalypse. Why was the waiter on the road? Why outside of the city? Why three weeks later? The fact that he dies within such a short time frame somewhere on a road leaving the city builds up to the conclusion we eventually arrive at, the waiter was trying to run away from the city, from the virus that was spreading like wildfire.

Another example of time within Part 1 of Station Eleven, is how much the past is talked about and how important details are often told through memories of the characters. There are multiple times that an epidemic from the past is brought up.

“You remember the SARS epidemic?” p.18

“It’ll be like SARS, […] They made such a big deal about it, then it blew over so fast.” p.25

We know from the get go that the new epidemic is not at all like the one from the past. This is the first mistake we see, the flu is not leaving anytime soon and treating it like it will is probably not the best course of action. The past isn’t helping the people address this a new problem, at least not so far.

“This was during the final month of the era when it was possible to press a series of buttons on a telephone and speak with someone on the far side of the earth.” p.30

This note is brought about from a phone call made to notify about the first death in the novel, no ones knows that these are the last weeks of known society. All these moments serve as premonitions for what is to come, warnings to an empty audience that can’t do anything about it. Chapter six is the clearest example of this, an incomplete list of all the things we miss. Places, things, services, all things we no longer have access to.

“No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in doing so, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.” p.32

The startling fear, that we suddenly find ourselves alone, “No more avatars.” nothing to hide behind, us whole but still feeling like pieces are missing, the human instinct and need for interaction.



2 thoughts on “Before the After

  1. Timothy Rivera

    I really do enjoy this, based on your questions I was able to detect certain things about part 1 that I wasn’t able to detect on my own. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: The Space Between Then and Now – English 2001: Intro. to Literature I: Fiction

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