Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Picador)

An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse.

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.
News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.
Civilization has crumbled.
A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.
But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.
Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.


The dystopian/post-apocalyptic genres can be pretty hit and miss for me. However, I’m still drawn back to them and that is the case with novels such as Station Eleven. It’s smart, compelling and engaging and really not just one of the better novels of 2014, but also one of the best books to come out of this genre in a while. Written by Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven is very much a different beast to your usual post apocalyptic novels, and packs some unique qualities that keep this book feeling fresh and original. The prose is confident and the narrative is compelling and there’s enough good stuff here to make Mandel a must read author going forward, because I was simply blown away by what Station Eleven has had to offer.

Station Eleven is hauntingly real. There isn’t anything too outlandish about the new world, and this isn’t the sort of book where you’ll find evil overlords or ruthless police states. It’s smart, compelling and unlike most post apocalyptic novels that I’ve read, looks back into the past as well as keeping a firm eye on the present. Flashbacks, designed to tell what life was like leading up to the outbreak of the Georgia Flu are handled incredibly well, and with a unique structure that balances that with looking at what life was like not just immediately after but also twenty years into the future from the collapsing of society, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s incredibly well plotted and at no point do the transitions feel jarring or out of place, with some great character work over the course of the novel that is really handled well. No part of this book overstays its welcome – it isn’t a fast thriller that completely overlooks characters and world building in favour of creating suspense and neither is it a dull, character study with not much going on. It’s the perfect blend of everything needed to make a good book and it really pays off in the execution.

Let’s get onto the characters, and they are incredibly awesome indeed. Station Eleven charts the lives of six various different people, both before and after Society’s collapse, exploring the interlinking lives of Arthur Leander, a famous actor, his oldest friend Clark and his first (of three) ex-wife Miranda. The journalist Jeevan is thrown into the mix as well alongside Travelling Symphony performer Kirsten and to top everything off, a self-proclaimed prophet. So it’s certainly an interesting bunch of characters to say the least and the way they’re interconnected across the novel is incredibly well thought out. They’re all richly developed, given their own quirks and flaws in a way which helps them stand out from the other bland, boring and faceless characters that you’ve seen in the genre before.

If you’re looking for something new, fresh and exciting in the post apocalyptic genre then you’ve certainly come to the right place. Literally, the only thing wrong with Station Eleven is that it ended, because I finished this book just wanting more. It’s one of the best novels of the year with some great themes overlaying the book. The character work is great and the Shakespeare connections – including the links to King Lear, are handled very well indeed. So as a result, I can’t recommend this novel enough – this is one you’ll really want to check out.

VERDICT: 10/10



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