Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel, 2014) – Intertwining fates are uncovered as The Travelling Symphony roams Earth after a devastating epidemic.


Station Eleven sifts through forgotten memories, examining what it means to be human.



Of intertwining fates and post-apocalyptic longings, Station Eleven shares the elegance of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and emotional complexity of Stephen King’s The Stand. These similarities do not draw away from its brilliant originality. An elegiac storyteller, Emily St. John Mandel has painted a beautiful picture of the world as we know it, and a hopeful vision of the future.

Her large band of characters begins their journeys at different points. But they are united in that common struggle to find purpose in life that we all seek. Take Arthur Leander, who has committed his whole life to showbiz, only to find that success in fame is not the answer.

He looks to fixing his broken relationships with his family. That with his first wife Miranda remains cold. She has long given up on a love lost. The artist seeks fulfilment in her job and identity in her passion. She creates art for the sake of art, hiding bits of truth in fiction.

Arthur’s continued infidelity costs him his second wife Elizabeth and only son Tyler. The pair moves to Jerusalem, putting distance between them, both physical and emotional. The only kindred connection he finds is in young actress Kirsten, a reminder of his estranged child. He gifts her Miranda’s graphic novel, known as Station Eleven.

He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret. He had done some things he wasn’t proud of.

Their acquaintance is cut short when a heart attack takes Arthur’s life on stage. An audience member, Jeevan Chaudhary tries to save the aged actor to no avail. The tragedy marks a turning point for Jeevan, who sets upon making a difference as a paramedic, leaving behind his job as a paparazzo.

Then, the Georgian flu strikes. Dreams come to a standstill, or take on new forms for the fortunate ones. A reset on Earth takes away the inessentials, forcing survivors to introspect what truly matters in life. The resultant prose is quietly contemplative.

I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.

Kirsten is one of few who lives, holding onto Station Eleven, whose author remains a stranger to her. Little does she realise how much she has in common with Miranda, as she travels with the Symphony band that keeps civilisation alive through art for performance’s sake.

Each iteration of a beloved play points to the cultural significance of history that we will woe to forget. Within the Symphony is a mixed bag, brought together by their passion for music and theatre. It is art that connects the individuals on their separate paths. All of which arrive at the same destination, where they learn what it means to be human.

The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?

Through this insightful story about humanity, we see everyday miracles taken for granted. We miss the planes, electricity, and the interconnectivity brought on by technology. And most of all, we notice the clandestine connections we all have with each other, born out of what had once been nothing.

Describing Station Eleven as a post-apocalyptic novel would be misleading. It is less about the broken world, than its inhabitants who seeks reparation. Its intricate web of relationships conveys such profound themes that leave behind powerful reflections.

In this gorgeously written story, no words ring truer than the lifted quote that Kirsten lives by. Survival is insufficient, for it is through empathy and passion that we truly live.


9 thoughts on “Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel”

  1. We do actually take a lot of things for granted and it’s nice to read books or watch movies that remind us of all those things we really should appreciate. Very interesting book indeed, never heard about it before but now I need to check it out. Fantastic review, as always Jade!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks much, Renate! 😊 It’s such a wonderful book that stands out from the usual apocalyptic fare, reminding us of the little things that truly matter. Hope you’ll love it as much as I did!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well….ofcourse you realise that I have just added this one to my Goodreads to read list (that for some weird reason just keeps on growing lol). I really like stories like this, not only focussing on the post apocalyptic, but also on the struggles of the people in that world. I guess it really is true: we do take too many things for granted, and at times worry too much about things that don’t matter at all. But on the other have that is what kind of makes us human as well. Great post,and thanks for another great recommendation 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks much, I’m happy to share the things I enjoy! 😊 And you’re not alone, my Goodreads list is neverending too. Haha! Glad you decided to put this on yours anyway. It’s worth the time for sure. 😄 And you’re right, character-driven stories are often more insightful. And I agree so much that sometimes, our weaknesses make us who we are!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mmm… Station Eleven. I loved this book. It had such a good atmosphere.. And was so smart, somehow. I would love to read something like that now. So deeply landscaped and solid. The funny thing is that I (unplannedly) read both Station Eleven and The Stand at pretty much the same time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to read another similar book as well! That feeling when you first read a thoughtful story like this, is one of the best in the world. And to find two brilliant books at the same time! You’re too lucky. 🙂 Thanks so much for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, have you read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson? Themed slightly differently, but it’s en epic in its own right, and it’s just… so mindblowing. Slow, just like this one, builds on a new world. I just can’t recommend it enough. One doesn’t cry at scifi very often 😀 (that’s the difference, Station Eleven wasn’t scifi, but the thematics and direction remain similar)


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