Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // an unsettling reflection on civilization

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Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Published: September 9, 2014

Pages: 336

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia

Amazon / Barnes & Nobles / Goodreads

Goodreads Description: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.

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 Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding 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.

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After putting this book on the back-burner for over two years, it has officially made it to my all-time favorites list.

First off, it was not what I was expecting at all. I committed the age-old crime of judging Station Eleven by its cover and, based off the (truly minimal) stars on the front, I assumed the story would take place in space. That, plus the fact that Station Eleven sounded like a space station (which I technically wasn’t wrong to believe), the book gave me the impression of being a space opera. While that wasn’t the case, I was pleasantly surprised that the book was so much better than my initial estimation of it.

I know some of you are thinking, “But, the book is clearly not about space in the synopsis,” and, I agree. Buuuut, 𝘐 𝘢𝘭𝘴𝘰 𝘥𝘪𝘥𝘯’𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘺𝘯𝘰𝘱𝘴𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘸 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘐 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘺𝘱𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘵 𝘴𝘰 𝘴𝘩𝘩𝘩𝘩𝘩. We’ve already established that I’m a sheep.

Station Eleven was written in seasoned third person. Each chapter alternated between the point of views of the main characters, but Mandel did not limit the reader to only those characters’ insights. 𝙼𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚕 𝚠𝚊𝚜 𝚊𝚋𝚕𝚎 𝚝𝚘 𝚑𝚊𝚌𝚔 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚝𝚑𝚒𝚛𝚍 𝚙𝚎𝚛𝚜𝚘𝚗 𝚙𝚘𝚒𝚗𝚝 𝚘𝚏 𝚟𝚒𝚎𝚠 by seamlessly glimpsing the reader into the thoughts of almost all the characters she introduced, even if it was only one sentence. 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐮𝐥𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐝𝐚𝐫𝐲—𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐚𝐫𝐲—𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐰𝐢𝐬𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞.

Along with uniquely executing third person, Mandel successfully presented the story and its events out of chronological order by jumping between the past and present. The constant swiveling among events in the story’s timeline never felt jarring or confusing. Instead, it allowed the reader to appreciate the characters more as Mandel unfolded the complex web of obstacles they had to overcome and the resulting burdens they carried with them through their lives. This type of storytelling consequently reaffirmed one of my favorite adages,everything happens for a reason.” Mandel showed that nothing is coincidental, and whether intentional or not, 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣 𝙙𝙚𝙘𝙞𝙨𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙖 𝙘𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙘𝙩.

I also noticed the frequent use of the number eleven whenever there was a need for a numerical value. It may be a coincidence, but Mandel repeatedly showed that every character, event, and detail was deliberate 🤔.

It’s easy to see the amount of thought Mandel put in to creating Station Eleven. On top of the beautiful storytelling, she was able to construct a logical, and therefore plausible, way of life for the post-apocalyptic group of characters. The group operated as a caravan which worked systematically and innovated crafty solutions to utilize their unforgiving environment and limited resources to their advantage. While the caravan fought for their survival in the new rugged landscape of the world, Mandel inserted many passing remarks as to how much we humans (ie. the readers and our society) currently take our lifestyle for granted. For all its failures, 𝐚𝐭 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐭 𝐢𝐭’𝐬 𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐚 𝐜𝐞𝐫𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐝𝐞𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐜𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲.

Station Eleven posed many philosophical contemplations (like the aforementioned) that many dystopian stories tend to ponder. The destruction of civilization made life harder, yet more simpler in many ways, but not for those who were alive before the downfall. These older characters often reminisce about an era long-gone, and through flashbacks, 𝘸𝘦’𝘳𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘰𝘤𝘤𝘶𝘱𝘪𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩. I particularly enjoyed this theme of the novelof not putting so much weight over meaningless “resentments” (as Mandel puts it in the novel) 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙖𝙙 𝙛𝙤𝙘𝙪𝙨𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙣 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙞𝙣 𝙡𝙞𝙛𝙚.

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Overall, Mandel’s method of giving every character a voice made the story feel less black and white. The use of a super-virus to signal the end of the world also added a layer of unsettling trepidation to the novel that zombie apocalypse books and the likes of them can never fully spark. The result was a unnerving reflection and speculative commentary on civilization, connections, and purpose. If you’re in the mood for being existential, this is the novel to read.

☆☆☆☆☆

i loved it


Thanks for reading! Have you read Station Eleven before? What did you think of it? Would you want to read this book (and feel existential with me) if you haven’t? Let me know 😊.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel // an unsettling reflection on civilization

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