Tuesday 26 August 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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 it 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, a bystander warned about the flu just in time; Arthur's first wife, Miranda; Arthur's oldest friend, Clark; Kirsten, an actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed 'prophet'. 
Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything - even the end of the world.

Station Eleven is published by Picador on 10 September 2014 and is Emily St.John Mandel's fourth novel.

Just look at that cover!  You would, wouldn't you? Then read the intriguing synopsis, listen to the rave reviews that are already out there, and you'll be sold on this one. Yes, sometimes a book just doesn't live up to the hype, but believe me, this one does. It really does, in fact it exceeded all of my expectations. It's a book that makes me wonder why I think I'm qualified to write a review, I am struggling to find words to explain just how Station Eleven made me feel. I was hooked in by the end of the first page and if I could, I would have sat down and read the whole damn thing, cover to cover, in one sitting.

The world as we know has collapsed. Georgia Flu struck and within two weeks 99% of its victims were dead. As the people died, so did the world's infrastructure. The television stations died, the internet disappeared, there were no phone lines, or aeroplanes. Petrol and oil ran out.

Humanity did survive. The few people that managed to avoid the Georgia Flu have created settlements, often in airport buildings, or petrol stations. Joining together to try to create a new world. Some things remain, there is still music and literature, and the Travelling Symphony are a group of artists who travel from settlement to settlement, putting on the plays of Shakespeare and accompanying these with music. The Symphony are a mixed bunch of people, all ages, both sexes. People who have come to look upon the Symphony as their family. They share memories, they have relationships.

The story travels back to the days before the collapse, and then to the present-day; twenty years later, and holding these two strands together is one person. Arthur Leander was a celebrity, an accomplished actor with three ex-wives and a small son. Arthur died on the day that Georgia Flu struck, but he was not killed by the flu. Arthur's legacy lives on in the new world, connecting some of the survivors and creating memories that they cling to.

We live in a troubled world, with war and unrest, and just recently the threat of the Ebola virus. Yet most of us wake up each day and take life as we know it for granted. How cross we get if we get a short power-cut, or our train is cancelled. It's so bloody annoying when we are in a wi-fi 'not spot' or we can't get a signal on our mobile. We moan about the price of petrol and food - yet it is all there for us. Try to imagine for just one moment that everything is gone ..... that's Station Eleven.

One of the most striking things about Station Eleven, other than its ingenuity, is its possibility. The fact that this could happen. Emily St.John Mandel has created a story that is both shocking and touching, beautiful and desolate, but most of all human.

I don't want to say much more about the plot. The world collapsed, the survivors tried to rebuild it. The characters are vibrant, the references to our world are haunting and sometimes chilling, the writing is beautifully tender, yet stunningly blunt.  My words can do neither the story nor the author any justice.

My thanks to Sam Eades from Picador who sent my copy for review, and also a mention to my friend Nina who has been nagging me to read Station Eleven for the past 6 weeks - cheers Nina x

No more diving into pools of chlorinated water
No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights
No more trains running under the surface of cities
No more cities
No more light
No more internet
No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows
No more countries, all borders unmanned

Emily St. John Mandel was born in Canada and studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She is the author of the novels Last Night in MontrealThe Singer's GunThe Lola Quartet and Station Eleven and is a staff writer for The Millions. She is married and lives in New York.

For more information check out her website www.emilymandel.com.  Her Facebook Author Page or follow her on Twitter @EmilyMandel


  1. Not one for me - can't stand disaster movies let along a disaster book. It might be beautifully written, but as I say, not one for me.
    Margaret P

  2. Like you, I didn't expect to enjoy this novel as much as I did. Just seeing that you'd posted review got me all excited again. I'm trying to save mine for launch day but difficult to hold back from shouting about how good it is.

  3. I have just started this one and I'm not immediately WOW, but I'm persevering and hoping I'll find it like a 'marmite lover' would in the end, a taste explosion. I'm really up for it.....