Book Reviews, Science Fiction

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Genre: Science Fiction > Post Apocalyptic

Version: Paperback (352 pages)

Publisher: Vintage Books

Source: Purchased > Book Club

Buy on Amazon • Add on Goodreads • Read an Excerpt



Book Synopsis:

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed

My Thoughts:

Station Eleven was selected as June’s book of the month for my book club.  I was actually quite excited to read this book as I don’t read much science fiction.  I was even more interested when I discovered it was a post apocalyptic book.  I know, I know.  Many people are over the dystopian & post apocalyptic genres, however I am late to the game and have not read many of these types of books. I have read a few books in the dystopian genre (The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series), but I really haven’t read any books in the post apocalyptic realm.  Actually, to be honest, I didn’t even know the difference until I did a little research and stumbled upon a blog post from author Julie Kagwa that cleared it up for me.  If you are a bit foggy on the difference too, you can read the post here → Dystopian vs. Post-apocalyptic

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Station Eleven is about life after a world-wide pandemic.  I find the concept of a pandemic utterly terrifying.   The idea of an illness so deadly and widespread, that virtually no one can survive  ((shudder)).  Actually, this book prompted me to look into pandemics throughout history, which only freaked me out more.  Since 1918, there have been 4 pandemics in the United States.  The Spanish flu of 1918-1919, the flu outbreak of 1957-1958, the flu outbreak of 1968-1969, and H1N1 (swine flu) of 2009-2010.  Obviously, I remember the H1N1 outbreak of ’09-’10 and was personally effected by it.  My son tested positive for H1N1 in 2009 when he was 3 years old.  He was hospitalized for 3 days, and it was the most terrifying experience of my life.  Of course these pandemics were nothing like the Georgia Flu in Station Eleven, but it is still fascinating (and terrifying) to read about.  If you want to freak yourself out and learn more about these pandemics, you can read more about them here → Pandemic Flu History.

After the devastation of the Georgia Flu, those left behind are living in a post apocalyptic world.  There is no instant communication, media, modern modes of transportation, lights, cooking appliances, heat, etc. etc.  Civilization, as we know it, falls apart.  This really made me think about how much of the conveniences of modern life that we take for granted.  There were a few instances where I challenged the believability of some of the events in the book, but overall, I feel this book was a fairly accurate depiction of how life after a world-wide pandemic would look like.  The characters all had to embrace their new reality: having to do things the “old fashion” way.  Overall, I really enjoyed the storyline.  With extremely short chapters and steady plot, the tempo of this book is very quick paced.

The book is made up of the collective experiences of Jeevan, Miranda, Kirsten, and Clark.  These characters are all tied together by a common link, Arthur.  I enjoyed how the Arthur tied all the primary characters to Arthur and how they are all woven together.  We not only got to see the individual stories, but also their connections to each other.   The idea of the antagonist in this book, the prophet, was so believable for me.  In these types of situations, there will always be people who will take advantage and use it as a climb to a position of power.  While I found the characters in Station Eleven compelling and likable, I would have liked more character development.  Due to a high volume of primary and secondary characters, we never really learn much about any character in particular, aside from Arthur through the eyes of others.  Station Eleven is more of a plot-driven story, therefore there isn’t much character development going on.  I never really developed any type of strong emotional attachment to the characters.

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There were definitely varied opinions about Station Eleven amongst the members of our book club.  Of the 5 people who actually finished the book, 1 loved it, 2 enjoyed it, and 2 didn’t care for it.  For the 2 that struggled with it, I think they were in agreement that they didn’t care for the abruptness of the writing style or the time line of the story.  I would agree that at times, Station Eleven escalated quickly, which can make the plot seem overly abrupt.  However, we are talking about a post apocalyptic world here… I would think if the worldwide pandemic killing off most of the human population, shit would hit the fan pretty quickly, thus being abrupt.

Even though there were conflicted feelings about this book within our book club, I felt this was a wonderful book selection for a book club because it sparked a lively discussion To me, good book club books don’t have to all be 5-star reads, but that they open up dialogue.  What I loved the most about this book was that it made me think.  What would I do in these situations?

 I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys the post apocalyptic genre and likes quick paced and plot driven stories.  If you only enjoy books that are character-driven, this is probably not the book for you.

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Noteworthy Quotes:

“Because survival is insufficient.”

“A fragment for my friend –

If your soul left this earth I would follow and find you

Silent, my starship suspended in night”

“Love is like the lion’s tooth.”

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore.  After that, we want to be remembered.”

“What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”

“We traveled so far and your friendship meant everything.  It was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty.  Everything ends.  I am not afraid.”

My Rating:

Star ratings (3)

I really struggled with my rating of this book.  On one hand, I really did enjoy the book.  On the other, I would have liked a little more character development… I ended up going with 4 stars based on the fact that it was a great book club selection that prompted a great discussion.

About the Author:

EmilyStJohnMandel1SMALLEmily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the Morning News Tournament of Books, and has been translated into 27 languages. A previous novel, The Singer’s Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.   

Website // Twitter // Tumblr


24 thoughts on “Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel”

  1. Wonderful review! I had no idea about the difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopian, thank you for the links. I think my rating of this was also a 4- not perfect, but definitely still beautiful and worth reading (and the plot is pretty unique as far as I can tell, but I haven’t read too much sci-fi either).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was my thinking too. I feel this is different from all the post apocalyptic books out there even though I haven’t read any. Honestly I was nervous that zombies were going to make an appearance… I’m glad they didn’t haha

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Smart review! In many ways, I thought the writing was brilliant and the story certainly memorable. I couldn’t give it five stars, though, and wasn’t sure why until reading your review. You’re right, it was hard to form a close attachment to the MCs when there were so many of them. Also, as cool as the Shakespeare Orchestra concept was, it was a touch on the hokey side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are exactly right! It was a little odd and out of place. I really liked the concept of keeping some normalcy amongst the chaos going on in the world, HOWEVER you would think people would be focusing on bigger things… Like re-establishing the power grid…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just a couple of quick thoughts in response to what has been posted above – “Love is Like a Lion’s Tooth” is the refrain from a poem, “Crazy Jane grown old looks at the dancers”, by William Butler Yeats, which broadly looks at the beauty of life in its opposites through the reflection of an older person watching the dance of youth. It’s a pretty good reference for this book. As for the other quote, “survival is insufficient” is, as mentioned in the book, drawn from Star Trek Voyager, which actually also makes sense in some ways. For a great zombie post-apocalyptic book, try Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels, a southern gothic with deep character development and some real beauty.


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