Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Book Review)

Rating: ★★★★

“Because survival is insufficient.”

Star Trek, Featured in Station Eleven

Genre: Apocalyptic/Dystopian

Summary: “Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the 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 a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.” – Goodreads

My Review

Thinking back on this book, I can’t help but think it is too close to home in light of recent world events. However, I read this back in December, before the pandemic and when I thought this was just going to be a normal year. Station Eleven made me existential in ways I still cannot fathom. It forced me to think about the world and my place in it and what might happen in light of a world-collapsing natural disaster. This book was melancholy and optimistic and terrifying all at once, but overall, it was a phenomenal book that I highly recommend. 

My favorite thing about the series was the structure. The book begins at the start of a global pandemic known as the Georgia Flu. Months later, less than one percent of the human population remains. This book has intertwining timelines that take place before, during, and after the world-ending pandemic. I loved how the book cut between different periods, cutting the old with the new and slowly building a narrative of survival and life. The book manages to cut between the timelines flawlessly, weaving between the past, present, and future in a way that did not confuse the audience. Furthermore, it slowly revealed elements connecting the three protagonists without giving everything away right at the beginning. Thus, the structure of the book was flawless. 

Furthermore, I could not help but love the journeys of the main characters. The main character we are first introduced to, Jeevan Chaudhary, clearly has gone through massive personal growth by the time the story begins. However, before he reaches what he believes to be his full potential, the pandemic seemingly snatches it from him. The story follows some of his past as an entertainment journalist, some of his present as a future paramedic, and some of his unknown future, so as I read more and more, I could not help but become attached to this man’s story. 

The second main character, Kirsten, however, has a much more different story. Living 20 years after the collapse of society, Kirsten performs within a travelling Shakespeare company that goes from settlement to settlement entertaining. Kirsten’s story is flush with beautiful and melancholic imagery as she and her troupe prove that survival is not all that matters in the world. After everything that has happened and after the destruction of society as it was, Kirsten and her troupe still manage to spread hope and live to their surroundings, and I greatly enjoyed that. 

The third main character, movie star Arthur Leander, also had a fantastic story for a completely different reason. His was the story of his rise to the top and the subsequent collapse of his close connections. Without going into too much detail, I thought it was interesting seeing the relative importance of the little things in life, all while knowing, as the reader, that he would die of a heart attack only hours before the fatal flu. 

I honestly don’t have many negative things to say about Station Eleven, but the reason why it got four stars instead of five is that while reading the novel, at times it got too sad and existential. I would have to take breaks from reading it just to think and compose myself. It wasn’t even bawling-my-eyes-out sad. It was more of a slow sadness, elegiac and melancholy as it seeps through your mind. However, looking back, I do not regret feeling all of that because it forced me to think about the value of my own world as I know it. 

Overall, this book was absolutely phenomenal, with an intricate, perfectly designed storyline, fascinating and driven characters, and a narrative and imagery that forces the reader to think about their lives and their world. I greatly recommend this book if you are interested in a dystopian that is  existential, philosophical, and overall hopeful for the future of humanity as a whole.