Station Eleven

April 19, 2016
Station Eleven Book Cover Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel
Dystopian Literature
September 9th, 2014

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding 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 Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. 

(via Goodreads)


Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel with a realism and relatability that I have never experienced from a novel such as this.

Our scene opens in Toronto, Ontario where a formerly-famous film star just collapsed on stage as he plays King Lear. Toronto OntarioArthur Leander dies as a newly minted paramedic, Jeevan Chaudhary, attempts to resuscitate him. Meanwhile, a child actor named Kirsten Raymonde is on stage and is marked for life by witnessing Leander die. As the event dies down, Jeevan’s friend, a doctor at Toronto General Hospital calls to make good on a promise he made years ago to Jeevan: Yes, there is a real epidemic going on. Clark Thompson, Leander’s best friend, is meanwhile tasked with alerting all Leander’s ex-wives that he has passed away. This includes successful executive Miranda Carroll who is currently in Malaysia. Then in Toronto Jeevan’s phone rings again, his doctor friend advises him to evacuate the city.

The Georgian Flu kills 99% of the Earth’s population in only a few days. Now the world must learn how to continue on without internet, phones, electricity, etc. We are set up immaculately well, with almost every major player being introduced before the 5th chapter. And Chapter 6? Haunting. Just a list of everything the world doesn’t have anymore. Things we have all taken for granted:

No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.

We suddenly wake up in a world devastated and barely able to survive. But, unlike most dystopian novels we have no zombies. No Mad Max-esque road warriors. No action scenes. No crazed government plots. Just humanity struggling to survive.

The main players, as addressed above, are all loosely Station Eleven Long Coverconnected to each other. As the story moves forward we are constantly flashed to the past and experience these tenuous ties being drawn tighter only to be pulled apart again. For example, Kirsten survived and as a once-child-actor now travels and performs with an acting troupe: The Traveling Symphony. Here they put on concerts and performs Shakespeare. Shakespeare and his world, also ravaged by plague- but not as roughly, serve as constant metaphors. The Traveling Symphony’s motto is Survival in Insufficient. This Star Trek quote sparks endless debate amongst the players and their audience members. What is the world without culture?

First we only want to be seen, but once we’ve been seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.

Along with Shakespeare, the Georgian Flu is used to explore so many facets of humanity. Our “current day” story is Year 20 post-plague. Characters reflect on the lives they once knew before the collapse of humanity. There is discussion of art and music, the value items once had and how their pervasive value has changed. We only learn about the pandemic what we can learn from the characters in the story. It’s sparse and real. We witness religious fanatics, experience the loss of sanity many who live through the epidemic go through, we see stealing and murder– we watch humanity crumble and build itself back up. We get to intimately know individuals and through them experience this breathtaking world.

The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?

Dr ElevenStation Eleven itself is a huge enigma throughout the novel. As we, the reader, unravel the mystery of Station Eleven through the pages and the hops in time, we want to share all its secrets. I desperately wanted to reach into the pages and help answer all the unknowns our characters had. But that is our privilege as the reader, and sadly, the fate of all great and flawed characters.

Station Eleven QuoteStation Eleven is haunting, terrifying, beautiful, and captivating. It taught me to appreciate the little things and helped me recognize what I take for granted might not always be here. There is no incredible revelation at the end of this book. However, the ending was perfect in my mind. After all this death, misery, and sadness, the reader is able to walk away from this novel with the briefest glimpse of hope. This hope was very real, and in turn made this whole novel so much more possible. Unlike most post-apocalyptic novels, we are left knowing that life moves on and the world will once again be whole. Just a different kind of whole.

5 Stars


  • Laura Williams April 22, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Glad you enjoyed this one! I loved it also, and I’m trying to make Vesper read it too. I also totally agree about the ending! It was perfect.

    • Jackie B April 26, 2016 at 9:24 am

      If Vesper reads this, let me know. I am still trying to understand what he enjoys in reading. It’s a personal quest of mine to eventually recommend a book to read that he devours. 🙂

      What did you personally enjoy so much about Station Eleven?

      • Laura Williams April 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm

        I’ll let you know when he starts reading it – I really want him to!

        I’m not sure what made me love Station Eleven so much. Rebecca recommended it and I think I just found it so surprising. It wasn’t like the ridiculous distopia/zombie World War Z (couldn’t even get halfway through it), but instead pretty realistic – haha given the “norm” that the whole world is wiped out. I think I liked that it had so many literary and theatrical references. I might try to reread once Vesper does, and I’ll give you a better answer!

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