Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Length: 10.5 hours
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Publisher: Random House Audio
Original Publication Date: 2014
Genre(s): Dystopia, Adult fiction
During a production of King Lear, famous actor Arthur Leander has a heart attack onstage. EMT-in-training Jeevan jumps into action and attempts to revive him, while nearby, child actress Kirsten watches as her friend and mentor takes his last breath. That same night, a deadly flu spreads across the world, quickly ending civilization as we know it. Those who survived the pandemic struggle to make sense of this new, desolate world. Though Arthur died before the world descended into chaos, his life—the people he loved, the choices he made—will connect and affect various survivors in the post-pandemic world.
I am very glad I did not read this novel in 2014. I am even more glad I did not read this novel in 2019 or 2020. I don’t think it would have affected me enough in 2014, and I think it would have increased my anxiety during the real-world impending pandemic had I read it in 2019/2020. I think reading it now, in 2022, was the perfect time for me to read this novel. I have no idea if I’d have liked this in 2014, or even just a couple years ago. I think there are books you have to read at a certain time in your life for them to really affect you, so I’m truly glad for the perfect timing of my reading of Station Eleven.
The novel is told in third person POV, alternating between various characters’ perspectives and jumping back and forth in time. It all kind of revolves around Arthur and his first wife, Miranda. Arthur dies pre-pandemic, but the characters throughout the story are connected by him in some way or another. They’re also connected by Miranda’s comic, Station Eleven, which was given to Arthur by Miranda, and then to Kirsten by Arthur. There are a lot of characters to remember—and to remember how they connect to other characters—and I found it difficult to remember them. I think the third person narrative made this difficult for me, but I also see why this novel had to be written in third person. It took me about half the book to keep the characters straight, but at least it did happen, I guess.
I have to say, the beginning of the novel was too slow for my liking. I had the book on loan from my library and couldn’t finish it before the loan expired — then had to wait months before I could get it back on loan again. For the first half of the book, I was kind of annoyed at the constant back-and-forth in time. I didn’t mind the character-switching, but I didn’t understand why the novel wasn’t just told linearly. I felt like that slowed the narrative a bit. By time I got the novel back on loan and finished the second half, though, I was totally engrossed. The pacing picked up a bit and it became more evident how the characters were connected — and why the author chose the nonlinear storytelling. After having finished the novel, I can say it was brilliant and the only way to have written the novel. I just wish I could have been more engaged in the beginning of the novel — though that might not be the novel’s fault and more of my own.
Overall, it was such a unique story to tell in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world. I loved that, although there was violence and suspense and terror, it was also a quiet story at times, and quite beautiful. I enjoyed the writing style and am pretty confident I’ll be reading more of St. John Mandel’s work in the near future. Again, I am so glad I did not read this mid-COVID because it would have terrified me. It makes me grateful that our real-world pandemic didn’t turn out like this. I highly recommend this novel and look forward to watching the HBO adaptation.