Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


The truth is I had picked up this book two years ago and got 30 pages in and just wasn’t that into it. After hearing about how great it was from a bunch of people, I decided to give it a second chance. This time though, I did it as an audio book. My first audio book in years, and my first ever not on a long road trip. I’m really glad I came back to this book.

If you’re not familiar with this story here is a little more about Station Eleven

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 Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac 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. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, 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.

This is one of those books that will stay with you. It is a realistic and bleak examination of the apocalypse. It’s the end of the world, but without any special effects, zombies, or sci-fi. You’re left with only the realization that the world you once knew is gone, and you still must carry on. What does that look like? What does that mean? Station Eleven is the story of humanity in decline, and then whatever happens after that. Survival. Remembrance. Creation.

Mandel is skillful and deliberate in the telling of this story.  Instead of allowing the audience to escape from the horrors of life-after-pandemic by inundating us with images of death and despair, Mandel forces us to confront these terrifying moments one by one. She is sensitive to the time it takes to process these nightmares, and gently guides the reader through. She weaves the different stories together by dangling details that then become strands carried on throughout the book. Mandel’s writing moves the reader through space and time seamlessly.  There is an ease to her prose and she is delicate with the emotions she brings to the surface. It is a balance between the supremely bleak and the surprisingly hopeful.

Considering how deliberate and crafted this book is, the ending left a lot to be desired. I won’t be spoiling anything here, but I will say, it ties up a little too nicely. Toward the end, Station Eleven veers into the precious which up until this point, Mandel really has fought against. Its clean and neat, in a way post-apocalypse shouldn’t be. I won’t say more.

Since I listened to this book it is worth talking about the narrator, Kirsten Potter. She was fantastic. Her ability to shift between characters without being too over the top was greatly appreciated. She was a perfect compliment to the language and helped to articulate the struggle of the characters and the desperation of the time.

I would cosign anyone who wanted to read this book, but would highly recommend it to those who love speculative fiction, dystopian societies, or stories that weave many character together. This is a solid book with a lot to reflect on. I did not want the story to end.

  • Audio CD: 10 hours 41 minutes
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (September 9, 2014)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy Station Eleven in print or audio on Amazon

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