Wednesday 10 September 2014


Book review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 10th September 2014 by Picador, 384 pages.

Description: DAY ONE

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.

News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.


Civilization has crumbled.


A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.


Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan - warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'.


Jeevan is watching a performance of King Lear at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto when the lead actor, Arthur Leander, collapses on stage. While Arthur's untimely departure is not directly related to the Georgia Flu that will soon spread across the globe and leave devastation in its wake, it does symbolise the beginning of a global collapse.

Not to mention that the characters the reader becomes acquainted with in the decades that follow are in a way connected to Arthur. There is Jeevan, the man who tries to revive Arthur when he collapses and knows the actor through his previous jobs as a paparazzo and entertainment journalist; a young actress by the name of Kirsten, who was on stage during the King Lear performance; Arthur's ex-wife Miranda, who is stuck half-way across the globe when disaster strikes; and the mysterious prophet.

I am not entirely sure where to start with my review, because this book was all sorts of amazing and I fear that anything I say will result in gibberish gushing rather than doing the novel justice and convey just how good it was. It was a thrilling and surprisingly enchanting story, which pulled me in so intensely that I simultaneously couldn't stop reading and didn't want to finish it, as anything I would read after would just pale in comparison.

As with many post-apocalyptic stories there was the disturbing message of what the world is diminished to when the majority of the population is wiped out in the blink of an eye; leaving those that remain with a form of liberation that is no longer hampered by the status quo. While humanity showed its most horrifying side in the initial aftermath, eventually the need to return to some form of civilisation emerged as an elementary part of survival. That doesn't mean that everyone has the greater good in mind though, which became particular evident when the sinister prophet made an appearance.

While this was certainly not the first novel entailing the aftermath of a pandemic and the devastating affects on civilisation, to me Station Eleven felt refreshing because of the clever and almost magical way author Emily St. John Mandel connected the years before and after the collapse as well as her very different main characters. And with fascinating concepts such as The Traveling Symphony and The Museum of Civilization, we could almost have been transported to a fantastical world, rather than twenty years down the line from where we are now.

What also made this such a unique novel was the way the Shakespearean works run like a thread throughout. From the very first chapter where the reader enters the world of Station Eleven during a performance of King Lear, to the Traveling Symphony bringing the Bard's legendary words to the small gatherings of people scattered across their route in the decades that follow. The theatrically added an almost otherworldly quality to the already beautiful and almost poetic language used within the novel.

Both highly imaginative and achingly realistic, I was drawn into the world of Station Eleven from the very first page. The novel was completely enthralling and unputdownable, making it without a doubt the best book I've read this year.

You can purchase a copy of the novel from Waterstones,, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with her online at:



Twitter: @emilymandel

This review first appeared HERE on

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