Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

After much hype and fanfare (and waiting on the library hold list), I finally got my hands on Station Eleven. I purposefully didn't read many reviews on this book so I wouldn't be influenced by others' take on things. All I really knew was what the publisher provides as a preview...that an orchestral and theatric troupe travels around what is left of Michigan after a devastating illness has decimated the world population. I wasn't quite sure what to think of that.

I'm happy to report the whole theatric troupe angle didn't come across as contrived or pretentious. If you're wondering why Mandel frames her story with this concept, it may have something to do with the troupe's mantra, which is "survival is insufficient." Mandel gives us more than a survival tale, focusing her story on her characters, who live their lives in spite of their circumstances. And this means doing more than just surviving. It means providing and finding enjoyment despite what has happened.

Mandel introduces us to many players, who are all somehow tied together, whether through direct relationships or by varying degrees of separation. She jumps from person to person and from time to time. Through their stories, we learn how everything changed once an illness struck the world, killing all but one of every 200-300 people.

Unlike similar story lines, where the future is still somewhat technologically advanced (Hunger Games, Divergent, the Maze Runner), Mandel explores a future where all technology is lost (more like the Forest of Hands and Teeth or the Walking Dead). What happens when the power goes out permanently? When the internet stops? When all the gas is no longer usable and transportation is only accomplished with animals? How does one rebuild?  All the while with a new world population of potentially less than the current population of California. Is it important to teach children who grew up after the pandemic about technology that no longer exists? How do you describe a smartphone? Or how people traveled by airplane? What happens if you were on vacation in a foreign country when the pandemic hit and all air travel was permanently suspended?

Mandel provides you with a varied cast, so there is bound to be someone you can relate to or want to root for. And she shows us how these people evolve and adapt. Not just because of what happened, but because that's what people tend to do in general. Rather than dwell on the why and how of what happened, Mandel deals with the questions that people face afterward. Her story-telling and writing is solid, and you will be drawn into this world that so frighteningly resembles our own. This is what makes Station Eleven memorable...if not a bit scary.


  1. After turning the last page, I sat completely still for a minute, stunned, before taking my dogs out. While outside, I was driven to tears by the beauty of the fireflies lighting up against a dark Chicago night. Station Eleven - in many ways, a psalm of appreciation for the simple things in our current existence - wields THAT sort of power. It's an amazing book and is highly recommended.

  2. Reading this gave me chills... Thank you for the comment.