Powered by Blogger.

Read this now: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I try not to judge books by their covers, but when Station Eleven caught my eye as I was having a browse for a new read I kind of knew it was for me. The bold title, the gorgeous artwork, the strategically placed peer review quote, I was sold. I'm a sucker for a post-apocalyptic tale as it is, but there was something about this that sucked me in. What was Station Eleven, and why was it so important?

The timeline of this novel stretches from the 'present day', as a pandemic outbreak of a deadly and uncontrollable flu virus brings about the collapse of life as we know it worldwide, to two decades after this point. Throughout we switch between the before, during and after through a set of characters that are connected through their encounters with a famous actor, who dies on stage during a performance of King Lear in the tale's opening scene, and a comic book written by his ex wife. The balance between past and present scenes is pretty 50-50 within Station Eleven and this helps to build the pace as well as fill in any blanks. I found it very hard to put the thing down. Everything comes full-circle in a way you probably won't be able to predict.

I appreciated the use of Shakespeare as a motif throughout the story on so many levels - after the collapse, a band of misfit survivors travel between remaining settlements performing Shakespeare for the communities. Little survived the collapse in the way of technology, culture as we knew it was gone for good, but good stories like those of the bard himself still resonate. The Travelling Symphony's trailer is painted with the words 'Survival is insufficient' (a Star Trek quote, would you believe), and this really struck a chord. We can always carry on in life, no matter what hits us, but as human beings our souls need more. Music, poetry, entertainment, love, purpose. It gives the Symphony members a reason to carry on other than merely surviving.

Something that really stuck out for me when reading this was Emily St John Mandel's deep understanding of the human condition. The way her characters react and interact with the events that unfold is so incredibly realistic, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were really there yourself. To write a global catastrophe that is so unprecedented but keep the reader focused on the individual protagonists immediate fate is a real achievement and part of what makes this such a haunting read. Every thought a character has, every action they take, is so considered, so laden with meaning and detail that there is no need to waste paragraphs describing the post-apocalyptic setting.

This is the best book I've read so far this year. It moved me, it surprised me, it made me think and most importantly it really, really entertained me.

What have you been reading lately?


  1. I read this recently as well. I adored this novel because it made me think. Degrees of separation, right? So many had been connected, even by the smallest of measurements, to Arthur. It was brilliant, really.
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review

    1. It's such a beautiful book but in a way you just don't see coming - very clever!