Hi! 👋 I’m Jessa.

I blog daily about life, work, and the future.

Station Eleven (by Emily St. John Mandel)

Written in


My thoughts

As I’ve written in this blog post, I find this book riveting. It even hits differently now that I am reading it two years into the pandemic. Though the pandemic in the novel is much worse than what we went through, this book will remind you of what happened and show you what a dystopian alternative would look like.

Once you start reading this book, it might not be easy to put it down until you arrive at the last page.

Quotes from the book

“Towns change.” Gil leaned on his cane by the third caravan, gazing at
the buildings and gardens of St. Deborah by the Water, at the haze of wildflowers along the edges of the road. The McDonald’s sign caught the last of the sunlight. “We couldn’t have predicted.”

He wasn’t expecting fame, although he secretly longed for it in his twenties just like everyone else, and now that he has it he’s not sure what to do with it.

“My poor corporate baby,” he said. “Lost in the machine.”

They are always waiting, the people of the Undersea. They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.

“You remembered.”
“Of course,” Clark said. “That’s one thing I like about birthdays, they stay in one place. Same spot on the calendar, year in, year out.”
“But the years keep going faster, have you noticed?”

“No, wait, don’t write that down. Let me rephrase that. Okay, let’s say he’ll change a little, probably, if you coach him, but he’ll still be a successful-but-unhappy person who works until nine p.m. every night because he’s got a terrible marriage and doesn’t want to go home, and
don’t ask how I know that, everyone knows when you’ve got a terrible
marriage, it’s like having bad breath, you get close enough to a person
and it’s obvious. And you know, I’m reaching here, but I’m talking about
someone who just seems like he wishes he’d done something different
with his life, I mean really actually almost anything—is this too much?”
“No. Please, go on.”

“Okay, I love my job, and I’m not just saying that because my boss is
going to see my interview comments, which by the way I don’t believe
he won’t be able to tell who said what, anonymous or not. But anyway, I
look around sometimes and I think—this will maybe sound weird—it’s
like the corporate world’s full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that,
my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror
show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting
this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I quite—”
“I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of
another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean?
They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something
different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever,
they’re trapped. Dan’s like that.”

On silent afternoons in his brother’s apartment, Jeevan found himself
thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines. Jeevan was standing by the window when the lights went out.

He didn’t imagine the fire would get very far, given all the snow, but the thought of fires in a city without firefighters hadn’t occurred to him.

We didn’t know what was happening. For the first little while, waiting seemed to make sense.

First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.

You walk into a room and flip a switch and the room fills with light. You leave your garbage in bags on the curb, and a truck comes and transports it to some invisible place. When you’re in danger, you call for the police. Hot water pours from faucets. Lift a receiver or press a button on a telephone, and you can speak to anyone. All of the information in the world is on the Internet, and the Internet is all around you, drifting through the air like pollen on a summer breeze. There is money, slips of paper that can be traded for anything: houses, boats, perfect teeth. There are dentists. She tried to imagine this life playing out somewhere at the present moment.

…the world had certain people in it, either central to her days or unseen and infrequently thought of. How without any one of these people the world is a subtly but unmistakably altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.

Miranda woke at four in the morning with a fever. She fought it off with three aspirin, but her joints were knots of pain, her legs weak, her skin hurt where her clothes touched her. It was difficult to cross the room to
the desk. She read the latest news on the laptop, her eyes aching from
the light of the screen, and understood. She could feel the fever pressing
against the thin film of aspirin. She tried calling the front desk and then
the New York and Toronto offices of Neptune Logistics, followed by the
Canadian, American, British, and Australian consulates, but there were only voice-mail greetings and ringing phones.

“It’s the waiting,” Clark had heard a woman say, “I can’t take the waiting, I have to do something, even if it’s just walking to the nearest town to see what’s going on.…”

“Why did we always say we were going to shoot emails?”
“I don’t know. I’ve wondered that too.”
“Why couldn’t we just say we were going to send them? We were just pressing a button, were we not?”
“Not even a real button. A picture of a button on a screen.”
“Yes,” Garrett said, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films…

You fall asleep for short periods and then for longer periods and then forever.

Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.