Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Publication Date: September 9, 2014

Publisher: Knopf

Pages/Format: 333 pages, Hardcover

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From Goodreads:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.


One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.


Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.


Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.


Have you ever been so immersed in a book that you didn’t want the tale to end? Station Eleven did that to me. Upon reading its last page, all I wanted was to know more about the lives that Emily St. John Mandel had created. She has crafted a world very different from current society and yet still made it a place with hope for the future of humanity.


Despite that I felt as though this story could go on after it ended, I didn’t believe it was lacking anything. The writing is so gorgeous and I quite liked how well thought out the plot was. However, I’m just interested in knowing more about the prophet’s life before the Traveling Symphony arrived in St. Deborah by the Water and encountered him as well as the fate of Miranda, Arthur’s first wife. Although further information about these two people didn’t appear necessary to the tale, I’d be curious to know more because each of them were fascinating to me.


I truly enjoyed how the book switches back and forth from character point of views as well as the past and present between chapters. I was also pretty intrigued by the interconnectedness of life before and after the pandemic as well as the parallels between them and the characters from Miranda’s graphic novel with Dr. Eleven and his people of the Undersea. Both sets of characters were longing for a culture that had ended. It’s scary to think about how easily this book could become a reality.


What I really took away from reading Station Eleven is that there is always a certain amount of beauty to life even during desolate times. Kirsten, who was young when the pandemic hit and doesn’t remember much from before the apocalypse, often looks around and notices allure in a world greatly wrecked. Because of the great writing and characterization, I’m giving this 4 out of 5 stars. Although I was fond of the story, I didn’t absolutely love this book. Yet I’d recommend it to adult as well as teen readers and even folks who don’t love dystopian stories. In my opinion, the main focus of this isn’t the science fiction aspect but the lesson about finding good in any part of a particular place.


Here’s my reading progress from Goodreads!