By: Emily St. John Mandel
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.
Completion: Even though I was required to read this book for a college course, I was fully invested in the story. I would have read it and finished it even if it hadn’t been for class. What a refreshing surprise!
Writing/Style: St. John Mandel’s writing brings such a haunting beauty to the collapse of civilization as we know it. By writing about the world before the collapse as well as twenty years after it, she manages to avoid many cliches of the mainstream dystopian genre.
Characters: This story has a significant cast of characters, and yet the characters are distinct and richly developed. Each character’s arc has moments that tug at your heartstrings, and that’s a hard feat to pull off. Furthermore, each character presents a different part of this vast post-collapse world and presents different ways to react and survive in this world making them all vital to the story.
Plot/Pacing: This is not a linear plot, but it never felt jumpy or slow. St. John Mandel did a great job of weaving the pre- and post-collapse worlds together, sometimes with only a few sentences. One of my favorite examples of this (no spoilers) was when I read a chapter involving minor characters in the pre-collapse world who were having a conversation and at the end of the chapter the story flashes forward to say:
“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” (15).
World-building/Atmosphere: This book balances tragedy and hope and redemption of human relationships in a seemingly isolated world. I felt completely enveloped in the landscape of this novel as it combined the decay of our world with the beauty of nature and rebirth.
Sub-genres (Romance, Humor, Mystery, etc.): While I wouldn’t classify this novel as a mystery by any means, by going backward and forward in time St. John Mandel slowly pulls together this puzzle of connections between her cast of characters that is surprising satisfying. As well, while the topic is serious, she does a great job of balancing it with moments of levity.
FINAL VERDICT: If you are looking for an adrenaline-filled adventure through a post-civilization wasteland with cannibals, shoot-outs, and villains, oh my!, then look elsewhere. For everyone else, this is a smart, satisfying read that will leave you wanting more.