Review | Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My experience of this book suffered by coming straight after The Martian. If reading The Martian is like accelerating into the upper atmosphere in a rocket, reading Station Eleven is like plodding down a rocky road in a wheelbarrow pulled by a tired horse. 3/5 stars

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel book cover

The blurb: 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.

My take:

First, the positives. Station Eleven is very well-written. The language is often beautiful and the descriptions of the new and old world are powerfully evocative. It gives you an increased appreciation of how integral the miracle of electricity is to our lives and just how much we take it for granted. The “pre” and “post” pandemic narrative threads were woven together with skill and, apart from the short “interview” sections, nothing seemed surplus to requirements.

But I didn’t connect with the characters. The book opens with the death of Arthur, who will be the most important character in the pre-pandemic sections. For me, this created an instant detachment, and rendered a large part of the book as interesting as an extended obituary for a not particularly likeable film star.

The action post-pandemic occurs twenty years after mankind was almost wiped out. We follow a wandering troupe of actors and musicians – a good idea, but one which feels under-developed. We learn that the dangerous days of the first ten years in the new world are largely gone. The younger characters, including Miranda – the main character in the “post” sections – don’t remember these chaotic times, and the older characters prefer not to talk about it. Killjoys. I would have loved to have heard more about this time. As it is, these sections of the novel are a bit like The Walking Dead, if all the zombies had gone. Hmn.

This last point is important. If you’re looking for dystopian fiction, Station Eleven isn’t it. I’ve seen it described as “elegiac” and that is spot on. This is a melancholy reflection on the wonders of the modern world (and how they are both a blessing and a curse), the fragility of civilization, the ephemera of fame and the permanence of art. If that sounds like what you are looking for, then I recommend this book. But if you’re in the mood for an exciting page-turner, I’d point you towards The Martian.

P.S. This would be a terrific book club read. A group could get a lot to talk about from this book!

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul

11 thoughts on “Review | Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. I loved this book, but at the same time I absolutely agree with everything you wrote here. I especially love your comparison to reading this vs reading The Martian – it is so true (and just an awesome, funny sentence, haha). I read this one months before The Martian so it didn’t suffer by comparison for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good point about the dystopian fiction, this not being it, really. I did enjoy the book, though. I loved it from the first snowflake to fall upon the dying King Lear. It was whimsical in a way. Fair enough point about not connecting with the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 26th August 2015 | Art and Soul

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