Book Review: Station Eleven

stationelevenTitle: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Rating: 4/5

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel that focuses on several characters and their connection to each other as St. John Mandel explores the world before and after the collapse of modern civilization. Arthur is an actor who has been married three times, divorced three times, and has begun to reflect on the things that he has missed. His latest role is in the stage production of King Lear and he has a heart attack while performing on stage. Kirsten is a young child actor who is on stage when Arthur suffers his heart attack. Jeevan, a photographer turned paramedic, attempts to revive Arthur on stage, but does not succeed. It is when Jeevan leaves the theater that his friend informs him of a vicious strain of the flu, the Georgia Flu, that  will turn into a pandemic. His friend is not wrong and soon, 99% of the population is wiped out. Station Eleven flashes backward and forward through time to tell the stories of these characters, amongst others, as they reflect back on their lives before the collapse and experience longing and despair afterwards.

Station Eleven is told from the points of view of several characters and frequently goes back and forth between the present and past. The points of view of the above mentioned characters, Arthur, Kirsten, and Jeevan, are explored as well as Arthur’s ex-wife, Miranda, and Arthur’s close friend, Clark. All of these characters are connected and as the novel progresses, their connection becomes more clear. I think that it was incredibly easy to distinguish between the present and past and the only point of view I didn’t particularly care for was the interview that Kirsten did. There was absolutely no action in these scenes and I just felt like it was a bit of an information dump.

I really enjoyed Kirsten’s point of view and journey with the Traveling Symphony. Amongst the many post-apocalyptic novels, this is the only one that I have encountered to focus on actors and musicians. I think the concept of a band of actors who travel around the barren country in order to perform Shakespearean plays for the people who are still alive is really intriguing. It’s almost their way of reclaiming the past and I really liked the idea. Kirsten’s colliding storyline with the prophet is interesting and I liked how St. John Mandel thought to add cults to her post-apocalyptic world. I also enjoyed the descriptions all throughout the book. It was incredibly easy to picture everything that St. John Mandel described because she did it so well.

The only big criticism I have of the novel is that it is incredibly jumpy and at times, it seemed scattered. For the first half of the novel, it was hard to decide who was an important character and who wasn’t. Half of the members of the Traveling Symphony are never named and the flashbacks and flash forwards at times seemed disjointed. In the end, everything seemed to tie together but I wish the storyline was a bit more linear. There also isn’t a lot of fast moving action in the book and most of the characters spend their time in a state of reflection. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it may not meet the expectations of someone who expects an action-packed and violent post-apocalyptic novel.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction. That being said, this novel doesn’t focus as much on the physical survival or of an economic or political restructure, but instead considers the more philosophical questions that come with such a tragedy. The characters ponder their regrets and the things that they miss from their lives before the pandemic. I enjoyed this novel and thought it was an interesting take on the genre.

If you have read Station Eleven, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Station Eleven on Amazon, please click here.

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