Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the 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.

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How was it? For a book written in 2014 the first part rings very true to the early days of COVID. However I was glad that the pandemic this book is kind of about isn’t the sole focus. We’re not spending too much time on the descend, the collapse of civilization, but it basically goes from the bottom up.

The story has a nice pace to it. I loved the back and forth between the past and the present, telling us what happened to the world and how the people the story follows lived and are living. The clever way some these characters are connected was an odd delight. Whether they knew it or not they basically had one connection in common, Arthur Leander, an actor who died on the same night the Georgia Flu pandemic began. There’s nothing mystical about the way they’re connected – at least I didn’t see it that way – they just happened to have crossed paths with Leander at one point in their lives pre-pandemic.

At some point, the steady pace in which the author tell us about this “collapsed” world with none of the trapping of modern society, felt slow or maybe monotone. I wanted to get to the end and was tempted to skip ahead. It wasn’t really out of boredom but a crescendo toward the end would have been appreciated. Besides the connections between the characters and the marvelous way this post apocalyptic world is described, there’s not much going on. There’s no big mystery to be solved, or cure to be found, and the book doesn’t need that but there’s a sameness that creeps in that makes the book a little interesting the further you go along. It takes the book a tad too long, even though it’s quite still somewhat entertaining.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Station Eleven is available on The Book Depository, Amazon, Audible and other book retailers near you.

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