Book Reviewer Kristopher Zgorski is an avid reader devoted to crime fiction who presently works as a Production Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University Press located in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and is also the founder of the mystery and crime fiction book review blog BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com).
St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, for
all intents and purposes, should be destined for failure. It is a futuristic,
dystopian novel marketed to contemporary fiction readers rather than the
typical sci-fi audience for such things. It features numerous characters, but
no through plotline. Structurally, the timeline is all over the place, resulting
in a book which has no real “ending.” Yet, somehow, Emily St. John Mandel has
fashioned Station Eleven into one of
the most impressive and gripping novels of the season.
before Station Eleven was published,
Emily St. John Mandel had a cult following based on her previous novels. With
the release of this new masterpiece, she is now destined for many award wins
and mainstream recognition from both fans and her peers.
Station Eleven is a
story of before and after. The novel starts with a performance of Shakespeare’s
King Lear, in which the lead actor tragically dies during the show.
Coincidentally, this also happens to be the same night cataclysmic disease
begins to wreak havoc on the world’s population. A particularly virulent strain
of the flu – named the Georgia Flu after the location of origin, the province
of Georgia near Russia – proceeds to bring death to all who contract it,
eventually decimating Earth’s population. The novel also deals with a time in
the future when the limited number of people who were able to avoid the flu
struggle to survive in a new, harsh landscape.
this all sounds fairly straight-forward, Emily St. John Mandel’s method for
telling these tales is anything but. The novel is broken into sections which
flash back and forth through time. Actions that take place in one timeline call
forth memories of past events. Characters tell other characters stories of what
happened before while simultaneously relaying their own path to the current
location. This all may sound like a mixed-up hodgepodge, but Mandel manages to
transport the reader to each of the needed storyline locations without any
does this by allowing readers to latch on to several characters – some whom are
only in the before or after sections, and a few who are in both. One of the
characters who is in both settings is Kirsten. Kirsten was a child actor in the
King Lear performance and after the devastation of the flu, she has found
herself as a member of the Traveling Symphony. The Symphony is actually a
combination theater troupe and orchestra which makes its way across the
wasteland performing music and Shakespeare nightly for any audience they can
there is any main plot to be discerned from the various vignettes which
constitute the novel, it would likely be the Symphony’s journey from town to
town, and ultimately, to the Museum of Civilization. This museum is located in
a former airport where survivors are now living. This is only a very small part
of the novel, but it is an important part. The lack of plot does not mean that
nothing happens, it simply is the unique technique used by the author to tell
the tale. Each of the smaller storyline sections have rising and falling
action, developing characters and resolution – and if readers pay attention,
many of the themes are foreshadowed throughout.
title, Station Eleven, comes from a
graphic novel one of the characters creates and many of the other characters
read or encounter over the course of the book. Within this fictional graphic
comic lie many important clues to Mandel’s ultimate goals in writing the novel.
The simplicity of Emily St. John Mandel’s writing style belies the complexity
of purpose. So complex is Station Eleven
that every reader will come away with something different upon finishing the
novel. In fact, I read the book twice to make sure that it was as good as I
thought it was the first time –Spoiler Alert: it was – and both times I took
away something different after turning the final pages.
messages within the novel may appear to be trite and Pollyanna-ish – things
like: don’t sleepwalk through life; love your family and tell them often; avoid
obsessing over things, technology, and power; and take nothing for granted –
but the weight of the book resides in the elegiac prose Emily St. John Mandel
utilizes to tell this haunting story. There is a reason that Station Eleven is racking up award
nominations and that is the same reason readers need to experience this book