Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Reviewed by Alia Moustafa


Would you think of yourself as a survivor or someone who did not stand a chance? Darwin’s theory of natural selection is applied in this outstanding novel about an apocalypse that brought an end to the old world and begun a new one. “Station Eleven” is a New York Times bestseller written by Emily St. John Mandel, and is a compelling novel about a virus that broke out all over the world, killing 99% of the earth’s population.

Only those who miraculously avoided infection have survived the wave of the virus. However, the struggles did not end there, those who survived had to endure years of natural selection.

This is the new world—life after the collapse—telling the story of the people who survived the deadly virus, how they survived the aftermath of living in darkness and shelters trying to survive the frightening acts of human survival, and then adjusting to a technology and electricity free world, void of all its previous luxuries.

“Station Eleven” has three layers to the plot, each gradually unraveling another. The first layer, which keeps recurring from different characters’ points of view, is Arthur’s life, which covers his hometown, path to fame, failed marriages and finally, his downfall. The third layer is the Station Eleven comic that only two characters possess, coincidentally. As small and insignificant as the third may sound, it is, in fact, the most significant aspect of Mandel’s brilliant literature as it is the most ironic symbol of the entire line of events in the novel.

Set between Toronto, Canada and the United States, “Station Eleven” follows the lives of many characters after the collapse: Jeevan Chaudhary, Kristen Raymonde, Miranda Carroll, Clark Thomson, Tylor Leander and most importantly, Arthur Leander. Jeevan was one of the first characters in the novel to find out about the virus and took immediate action for his survival.  Kristen was also one of the survivors who, after the collapse, joined a group of nomads with the name “The Traveling Symphony”. This group of people went back and forth on a set route, their mission being to add light to the darkness that has become of the world by acting several plays by Shakespeare and playing famous classical music. Kristen was also one of the two people who had a copy of the comic book.

Miranda, the author behind the comic book, was one of the first wave of people to get infected and die from the virus. Clark was a survivor and was known for the museum of civilization, which was a corner in the airport that he and others had taken refuge in and made their new home. Taylor was the second person to have a copy of the comic book Station Eleven, and became The Prophet after surviving several years after the collapse.

Jeevan, Kristen, Miranda, Clark and Taylor were all connected to one character: Arthur Leander, the first character to die in the novel, but not from the virus, rather from a heart attack on stage. He was an actor and at the time of his death, he was playing the role of the king in the play King Lear.

Throughout the book, Mandel has expertly played around with the plot and setting. She smoothly transitions between the past and present, where by doing so, she gives the reader the entire background story of the collapse and every character’s journey from the old world to the new through flashbacks and stories told by them. One chapter we, as readers, are finding out about how Miranda and Arthur met in Toronto; and the other we are finding out how Kristen and “The Symphony” are going to escape The Prophet in what was once a state in the United States.

The writing style behind “Station Eleven” made it impossible to put the book down. The series of events and how they are linked together gives the feeling that there is always something happening, and that there is no moment of silence. Not only that, but as readers, you form a relationship with the characters, sympathizing with them, supporting them, and of course, occasionally resenting them and sensing their annoying personalities unfold, bringing the characters more and more to life. These aspects of Mandel’s writing style creates a bond between her readers through her chosen words.

Mandel’s “Station Eleven” is an interesting, captivating read. The novel portrays the creative imagination Mandel has and how much of a talent she possesses to put it down into words for others to read and imagine themselves. I would definitely recommend adding this piece of literary genius to your reading list for the next weekend.