I finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel a couple of days ago, and these are my thoughts.
This is a dystopia set in the US and Canada primarily, and it tells the
story of a theatre company that travels around performing Shakespeare to the
survivors of a world wide pandemic. The book jumps back and forth in time, from
before the pandemic to far into the future. It follows several important
characters, the main one being Kirsten Raymonde, a 28-year old Shakespearian
actress. The book begins on the day of a production of King Lear, when the actor who plays King Lear, Arthur Leander, has a heart-attack and dies on stage. This happens
on the same day as the “Georgia Flu” pandemic starts and people start dropping like
flies. All the characters seem to have some connection to Arthur; Kirsten is a
child actress in the play, Jeevan is a paramedic who tries to save Arthur,
Miranda, his first wife, Clark, a friend of his, and all these people are
tenuously connected to each other through Arthur. We see Arthur’s life
pre-epidemic, and the lives of those connected to him both pre- and
First off; I liked it. It didn’t blow me away. I think it might have
been over-hyped a little and I didn’t connect to it as strongly as other
people. I thought it was really cool, and it was interesting, but it didn’t
I really liked the way it was told, it’s not told chronologically, it’s
sort of all over the place, before the epidemic, just as the epidemic breaks
out, and then in the future. I like it when books are set up like that. I think
it’s interesting because you get to see sort of right away how choices affect
the future, which I thought was really interesting.
I also liked the different perspectives, I really like it when authors
manage to make that work, and I loved it here. Emily St. John Mandel really
nails it. She manages to give them all different voices and separate them from
The fact that the theatre company, called The Traveling Symphony, is
basically just traveling around performing Shakespeare to survivors, is absolutely
beautiful. They have a quote on their caravan from Star Trek; "Survival is
insufficient," which I loved. They have decided that just surviving isn’t good
enough and they need to give people culture and something more than just
surviving. I thought that was amazing.
I loved how people who remembered the Internet and TV, and electricity,
try to explain it to people born after the pandemic, and they try to hold onto
it, which was interesting. I liked it because it is a great comment on how
technology dependent we are. And it’s interesting to see how you would try to
explain it to someone who has no concept at all of what the Internet is. And it
feels very natural, that people would try to explain this, because of how huge
a part of our lives it was.
I absolutely loved Station Eleven in the book, which makes sense if
you’ve read it. Essentially Kirsten has two graphic novels she was given by
Arthur the night he died, and they’re books she’s never found anywhere else. No
one she knows has ever seen them before, and they’re about this space station
called Station Eleven. I loved them; how they were described and how they were
woven into the whole narrative, I really liked that part. And I loved the way
it connected Arthur and his kid.
There are things that I didn’t love. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like
I connected to Kirsten, who is ostensibly the main character. I don’t know what
it is, but I just didn’t feel very connected to her. I felt more connected to
Clark, or Miranda. Kirsten has suffered some memory loss, due to the initial
shock of the pandemic and the world crashing to the ground, but I feel like it
maybe took away something from her. It was easier to connect to people who had
memories and who shared more. It feels like Kirsten was very cut off from
everything and she tried to shield herself from everything.
I also feel like the whole book was moving towards this huge climactic
ending which it didn’t reach. It was all just suddenly over. They’d been
putting so many plot lines in and oh my god a lot of stuff was happening.
There’s this prophet and they were working towards a huge, climactic resolution
concerning him, and it just sort of fizzled out. It was a tiny bit
disappointing. I feel like he could have gotten more space and a more
interesting ending. I feel like the ending in general was a bit rushed and it
could have been stretched out a bit longer to get more details and a sort of
fuller ending. It felt like the ending was a bit draft-like.
I liked it, it was a good book, it was an interesting story and I liked
the concept a lot, I just, I was a little disappointed I guess.