Book Review – Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel



  •    Book: Station Eleven
  •    Author: Emily St. John Mandel
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2014
  •    Read 339-page paperback edition in May 2016.

Book Description:

In this dystopian novel, the human population of the planet has been largely killed off by a fast acting flu.  However, some people have managed to survive and live in a post-acopalyptic age where there is no electricity, medicine, or other comforts of the modern age.  Twenty years after the disaster, although there are settlements now, some safe and some dangerous, the novel centres on a group of traveling musicians and actors, who perform Shakespeare and bring art and culture to people.  The novel also goes back to the days after the flu began, to show us the impact on society and how several people survived, people with eventual connections to the Shakespeare group.  This is a novel of sadness and melancholy, mixed with hope for some kind of future.

Book Review:

This novel by Canadian author Mandel is absolutely fantastic.  Her writing style and structure for the novel were perfect, with the decision to go back and forth across time, from the date of the disaster to twenty years beyond.  As we go back and forth, we start to see how characters and individual story lines connect, and it was enjoyable and touching for the reader to see these connections of people and objects.

The plot is obviously a dark one, with a huge medical disaster affecting the entire world.  Mandel focuses not on how organizations and governments try to deal with it, but more on the personal level, how do individual characters try and cope with impending doom.  Mandel writes many beautiful passages on these themes, that create a very personal and emotional novel, one that is touching, haunting, and melancholy.

“Garrett had had a wife and four-year-old twins in Halifax, but the last call he’d ever made was to his boss.  The last words he’d spoken into a telephone were a bouquet of corporate cliches, seared horribly into memory.”

The traveling music and theatre troupe twenty years after the disaster was an interesting and enjoyable group to read about.  Understanding their various perspectives on the world, some people who remember pre-apocalyptic technology, and younger people who don’t have those memories, provided interesting conversations to think about.  The importance of the arts and culture, no matter what your surroundings, was also fascinating.

Mandel also introduced a nice concept of the Station Eleven comic book, which connected characters from the date of the flu epidemic to characters twenty years later.  The comic book was vivid and well described, and the characters who were connected to this comic book placed value on it, which added substance to the novel itself.

The reality of lawlessness and a lack of national governments and borders was a very interesting concept, and Mandel did a nice job of highlighting many differences in the “new world” and allowed the reader to try and imagine this.

The action and tension in the novel related to the dangerous “Prophet” and his cult-like followers was well written. Mandel did a great job connecting characters like the Prophet to characters from twenty years earlier when the flu hit, and this connected the time periods of the book nicely.  At times it seemed some of the connections of people and objects were a little too convenient, but this was a very minor issue.

Overall, there were interesting characters and interesting story lines that came together throughout the book.  Mandel did a wonderful job, with strong writing that was both haunting and dark, as well as hopeful for a future.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars