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In Station 11, Emily St. John Mandel Finds Light Shining in the Darkness

By February 9, 2020January 28th, 202310 Comments

“Survival is insufficient.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven


An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding 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.

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

“No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven


  • 5 out of 5 Stars
  • Hardcover
  • 336 pages
  • Published September 9th 2014 by Knopf
  • Original Title Station Eleven
  • ISBN0385353308 (ISBN13: 9780385353304)
  • Edition Language English
  • Characters – Miranda Carroll, Clark Thompson, Kirsten Raymonde, Jeevan Chaudhary, Arthur Leander
  • Ontario (Canada) 
  • Michigan (United States) 

“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?” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Literary Awards

  • Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015)
  • PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015)
  • Sunburst Award Nominee for Adult (2015)
  • John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015)
  • British Fantasy Award Nominee for August Derleth Award (best horror novel) (2015)
  • The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015)
  • NAIBA Book of the Year for Fiction (2015)
  • Toronto Book Award Nominee (2015)
  • The Great Michigan Read (2015)
  • Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015)
  • Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2015)
  • National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2014)

My Thoughts

“Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.” 
― Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Survival is insufficient. 

In speculative fiction, I think we as readers forget that to survive humans must do more than live, humans need to thrive. Humans need to explore and challenge ourselves, to watch sunsets, be moved, and feel joy. Humans need more than to breathe. Good fiction knows this but great fiction, like Station 11, explores this.

The story of Station 11 starts with multiple endings.

  • A play of King Lear at a Toronto Theater where 51-year-old Arthur Leander has his final moments on stage after suffering a major heart attack. That was his end.
  • A man runs on to the stage and attempts to save Arthur. In this moment of heroism, his wandering has ceased. It has ended. He has found his calling.
  • A little girl watches the death of Arthur followed by the end of life as she knows it. Her childhood has ended. 
  • The first cases of superflu affect people. This ends in a worldwide pandemic that decimates that human population, cities, culture, and infrastructure. This is the end of human civilization as we know it.

The world ends, not with a bang but a cough.

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Endings are important in fiction, they are the culmination of something. But, an ending is only a moment, a person dying on stage, a man running to save him, a little girl weeping in the wings, and the two weeks that followed. These moments are like stones dropped into a pond. It isn’t so much about the stones as it is about all the ripples sent out from it. The endings are the springboards for beginnings and that in this novel is the important part.

We move forward twenty years and meet Kirsten who was the little girl who witnessed the death of Arthur. She is now a 28-year-old actor and part of the Traveling Symphony. A group of artists dedicated to performing Shakespeare and traveling around from city to city. They sing for their supper, but more than that they give a peek into something that is more than the drudgery of day to day. What in the world is more magnificent and resembles the height of human culture than Shakespeare?

I will not say any more about the plot. First, this is an intricately woven plot and surmising it any further than the blurb does the story injustice. There are too many small pieces. Second, this is a highly atmospheric novel. It is not so much about the words themselves, but the mental image the excellent storytelling it evokes. I couldn’t do it justice in a paragraph about plot highlights even if I wanted to.

Here is where I think this story is brilliant and surpasses many other speculative stories and should be read. It is the celebration of art and humanities. Art is such a human thing and it shines a light on the darkness of an apocalypse. There is so much dark, and drudgery in surviving. Find food and shelter… repeat. That isn’t important. It is the moments of joy and bliss that should be celebrated. Find hope amongst the shadows, find light in the dark. Celebrate that joy and write a story about that. That is what Station 11 is. It is a light on the darkness. I hope you read it and are as moved as I was.


I downloaded this from Scribd in both audiobook and written form.

About the Author

Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. 

Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, is forthcoming in September 2014. All three of her previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—were Indie Next Picks, and The Singer’s Gun was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.


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