Review: ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel

Not everyone one loves non-linear plot lines so in order to make Station Eleven accessible to all I took it upon myself to chart the timeline out for everyone and have included it for reference below.

You’re Welcome.

Station Eleven has one of the more interesting set ups I have seen. It is nominally a post apocalyptic tale that deals Station Elevenwith a select few survivors of a civilization ending strain of flu. Many of the familiar trappings are there; wandering bands of survivors, fascinating looks at a new life without old technologies, even a prophet emerging from the chaos consolidating power for his own vision.

But the base of the story is more Citizen Kane than Mad Max. The Rosebud of the story is an aging actor named Arthur who dies on stage in the opening scene of the story. His life and death have nothing to do with the death of humanity, in fact he dies the day the ‘Georgian Flu’ hits North America and is never aware of what is coming. But everyone in the book is in some way tied to him, directly or through his works, and it is one story at a time building to a larger connection that brings the whole cast together.

This is a slower paced book but incredibly well crafted. Each story drops a small hint, be it in the time of rebuilding, the hectic final days of modern humanity, or at times years before when everything was normal and problems much more mundane. The story is interesting, and questions will be answered, but it is tough to say whether there is any sort of payoff so a readers satisfaction will probably vary based on expectations. Personally I loved it; a complete memoir of life and fame hidden in the end of the world. But with its slow pace and lack of any major, central question your mileage may vary.

If there is a weakness in the book it comes from the believably of the post collapse world and in some ways the collapse itself. Yes, the very set up of the novel is the hardest to buy. The speed the sickness spreads world wide is quite insane and near complete start over humanity is going through doesn’t add up. Is there no mechanical lathe still around? Scavenging is effective but manufacturing shouldn’t have stopped. But since in reality all the post apocalyptic setting is just staging for a larger story it doesn’t’ really matter.

This is more quirky indie film than summer blockbuster. It is smart and interesting and worth reading but nothing really memorable. The setting works because of its small scale and unanswered questions but doesn’t beg for further expansion. Station Eleven is a book I am glad to have read but it is a style that really could only work once. It’s uniqueness is part of its charm and covers up for some of its weaknesses.

4 Stars

 

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15 thoughts on “Review: ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. While the premise for this story is quite fascinating, the slow pace you mention is something that gives me pause: it’s not that I don’t appreciate a slow buildup, on the contrary, but with this novel I’ve always had the impression that it’s somewhat… glacial – for want of a better word – and the fact you mentioned that there is not a concrete payoff leaves me doubtful…
    Thanks for a very thoughtful review!

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  2. I really enjoyed this one – and think you’ve nailed the review (love the timeline btw). I’m not sure how well it would work to read something similar again but this had the element of unusual and unique – and I like that we don’t get too much information – sometimes the explanations are the real downfall in these type of books.
    Lynn ๐Ÿ˜€

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  3. I loved this book, if ever there was a reader this was meant for, it’s me. But then I love literary SF. Its slowness worked, not every book has to be about crazy action sequences.

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  4. I loved this book through and through as well (although I have to say, that cover doesn’t.. exactly match what I got from it). I was also reading The Stand close to that time (have you read it? If not, you know what you need to do). Those two books just.. Oh man. Such different, but wonderful takes on the same thing. And I will not forget any of them anytime soon. Read it in the depths of last year or even longer ago!
    I suppose all the production would have stopped because there’s no one to supervise it or even understand how it works. What I always worry about in these books… Nobody ever talks about nuclear plants. Now THOSE would never stop. Or is it just too scary to talk about in books? ๐Ÿ˜€
    And quirky indie film is spot on.

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  5. I liked the book and loved it more whenever I think back on it. I agree that its setup is sort of weak. What I wanted to know is how many people survived the flu. I assumed at first that it’s just a handful, which is why manufacturing and such stopped, but I began to question all this when the postapocalyptic world expanded.

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  6. I loved Station Eleven and I love your timeline. I think you may have missed a squiggle? But you came close ๐Ÿ˜‰ I do love a good look at humanity through a (post)apocalyptic lens, and I love it more when it’s not completely down on human nature to boot. The thing that stood out for me in Station Eleven was the positive nostalgia it managed to evoke for the modern era – the things we would lose, and that we might regret, however frivolous.

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  7. Thanks for the timeline Nathan. You’re such a giver. Ahem! I have been wanting to read this for ages and even own a copy. I understand that it’s a little more “literary” and I gotta be in the mood for that . I feel like it has really blown many people’s minds so interesting that you are a tad more subdued about if still highly positive. That helps to temper my current super high expectations!

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