Review | Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the 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 a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

I’m very glad that I waited until month four of the current pandemic to pick up Station Eleven instead of reading it at the start, when Toronto first entered lockdown. I could vividly picture what the empty city streets looked like in the snow, and it was nice to read about places that I had actually been to, even if I might not get to visit them again for some time.

Station Eleven is more than just a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. It’s quiet and introspective, focused more on what it means to be alive at the end of the world than what caused the pandemic itself. While I am still curious about the first year of the Georgia Flu, the character-centric focus left me feeling hopeful about humanity and civilization.

There are a lot of characters within Station Eleven, some of whom are just referred to by the names of their instruments. All of these characters were so incredibly human: flawed, sympathetic, and stubborn, each with their own unique voice. I loved unravelling the threads that connected each of their stories.

Overall, Station Eleven was a beautifully-written and intimate exploration of human endurance. It’s one that I would definitely recommend, and I cannot wait to see how the TV adaptation plays out.

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