Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (book review).

July 17, 2015 | By | Reply More

What would happen if one day a devastating flu pandemic struck the human population of planet Earth? One day everyone is fine, going about their normal day, and then you get a slight cough. 24 hours later you and 99% of the human population are dead. What would happen to that 1% of humans left on planet Earth with no real means of communication as after two weeks everything grinds to a halt? As it turns out, some of them form a small travelling theatre group that performs for those people who live in North America. Others form a religious cult that threatens the peaceful new world with random violence.


This is a standalone post-apocalyptic novel. It charts how a group of people all either make it through or die during a flu pandemic that sweeps across the Earth killing 99% of the human population. Each of these people is connected to the other in many ways that present themselves during the course of the book. We follow this group of people prior to the event, during and for 20 years after but this isn’t done in chronological order we jump around during this time period and also see from different viewpoints. We get to see one group in particular who travel the newly decimated planet Earth putting on musical and theatrical performances of Shakespeare. They travel to small towns made of survivors some of which are highly ordered, others run by mad religious prophets.

This book really grabbed me from the start with the first scenes of our current world compared directly to later scenes both during and after the flu pandemic. You get to see how it all played out from various characters viewpoints some that made it through the pandemic and some who didn’t. I found it really interesting to see how it affected those who managed to live through it differently, for example, those who luckily barely noticed it happening to those who watched everyone around them die leaving them thinking they are the only person left on the planet. I especially liked how Mandel used our obsession with TV and social media, the reader can see how as these methods of communication vanish people start to panic more and more. We see how the various millions of TV channels all slowly stop broadcasting and then the internet ceases to exist. Personally I find that pretty scary as I know we all rely on these things to make sure we’re not alone.

Before you start to think that this is going to be a really depressing novel, as many post-apocalyptic novels are, you are wrong. There are many dark scenes of people dying from the flu and during the rough first years of the new human race. But this is all written with a lightness of touch that makes it easy to read. To be honest, the story isn’t really about the horrors as such and I felt it to be more about the different people and how they coped. I liked that it was different from traditional post-apocalyptic novels in that there isn’t some horror always chasing people, it was simply about the various people how they were all connected and how they all managed to survive with their humanity intact. This was probably best shown by the quote on the side of one of the wagons driven by the travelling theatre ‘survival is insufficient’, this is true, you need to survive but you also need to remember your humanity. Despite everything that happens this is a hopeful book, it shows that humans seem to be very resilient and that things can begin again albeit very different to our current world.

I liked that Mandel chose to only go 20 years past the apocalypse rather than hundreds of years as we could still see some people who had been around prior to the event. It was really interesting to see them trying to teach the new youngsters about the past and then to see discussions as to the usefulness of these teachings as they kids will probably never see Wi-Fi or a plane fly. It’s an interesting concept, do you remember the past as a museum, do you teach children about a past they’ll never be able to actually experience or do you just forget it and move on to the future?

I really enjoyed this novel and I implore you to read it. Even if you don’t think you like post-apocalyptic novels or SF, this is so much more than that. Just read it.

Sarah Bruch

July 2015

follow me @shelbycat

(pub: Picador, 2014. 333 page hardback. Price: about £ 3.70 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-44726-896-3)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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