EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL is the New York Times best-selling author of four novels, including the outstanding dystopian STATION ELEVEN which was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist & Winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
Mandel is originally from British Columbia but now resides in New York City with her husband. Her other novels are:
- Last Night in Montreal (2009)
- The Singer’s Gun (2010), and
- The Lola Quartet (2012)
STATION ELEVEN (published by Penguin Random House, 2015) takes place in a pre and post-apocalyptic setting, but it’s primary focus is on the psychological adaptation of five individuals in separate parts of the world. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic themes and very much enjoyed STATION ELEVEN, but I know this genre is not for everyone. I happened upon the book on my own, but I’m not surprised to find glowing praise from two writers I very much admire. Perhaps the two authors below will encourage you to give it a try.
“Because survival is insufficient,“
is repeated many times throughout the novel and is a direct quote from STAR TREK: VOYAGER, Episode 122: SURVIVAL INSTINCT, written by Ron D. Moore. It’s one of many references to a time long past yet relevant to the current world.
The story begins in Toronto and takes place mostly in that region of North America. All of the characters whose lives we follow share two connections – the epidemic (obviously) and an actor named Arthur Leander.
Hours before the Georgia Flu begins its full-scale decimation of 99% of the world’s population, fifty-one-year-old Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack during a performance of King Lear. Later that same evening, several of his colleagues gather in a nearby tavern and hold an impromptu memorial. All of them are dead within a few days.
STATION ELEVEN tells its story jumping back and forth across the decades between the time before and the time after the worldwide pandemic, following five characters: Arthur Leander, Clark Thompson, Miranda Carroll, Jeevan Chaudhary and Kirsten Raymonde.
Arthur Leander’s life is the only one untouched by the Georgia Flu. We look back on the rise and decline of his career, the selfish choices he makes in and out of love, and the regrets he admits to himself during his final hours. He dies unable to realize his life’s resolutions, perhaps lucky never learning they were not meant to be. Through Arthur’s steady eyes, we observe life as we now know it.
Clark Thompson is Arthur Leander’s oldest friend, having started out as struggling actors together. Clark stands by Arthur as his friend’s fame soars into the lights of the paparazzi and is with him through three failed marriages. In the end, its Arthur’s death which saves Clark’s life, when he leaves New York to attend to his best friend’s funeral just prior to the shutting down of all transportation hubs. Clark, being no lover of social media, is unaware of the events over the past few hours until his plane is redirected from Toronto to small town, Severn City. Through Clark’s dutiful eyes, we watch the building of a new society.
Miranda Carroll is Arthur Leander’s first wife, married to the actor at twenty-three and divorced by twenty-seven. Her short marriage and unpublished comic book creation – Station Eleven – are imperceptible blips in the past but have a long-lasting impact on at least two who survive the collapse of civilization. Through Miranda’s fevered eyes, we witness salvation slip out of reach.
EMT-trainee Jeevan Chaudhary is in the audience during the performance of King Lear. He is the first one at Arthur Leander’s side, performing CPR to no avail. On his way home from the theater, he receives a frightening call from a friend at the hospital. They are overwhelmed by passengers from a flight out of Russia. The Georgia Flu has arrived, its incubation period being only a few hours. Jeevan is told to leave town immediately. Instead, he gathers supplies and delivers them to the door of his wheelchair-bound brother, in the hopes of waiting out the epidemic. Through Jeevan’s somber eyes, we mark the ending of the old society.
Kirsten Raymonde, part of the King Lear cast and friend to Arthur Leander, is only eight-years-old when the Georgia Flu attacks. Fifteen years later, she is a Shakespearean actress with the Traveling Symphony. They migrate from settlement to settlement along the Great Lakes, avoiding those who shoot on sight, wild bands of roamers and cultist camps. Through Kirsten’s courageous eyes, we envision the beginning of something new.
As the intertwined stories unfold, their timelines converge. Kirsten’s story – for me – is the most compelling, suspenseful and unforgettable. Being constantly on the road has forced Kirsten to adapt in ways she’d sooner forget, though she carries tattoo reminders of what she’s had to do to survive.
When reading or hearing the word ‘apocalypse,’ one immediately pictures the end of civilization, the end of humanity, the end of the world. STATION ELEVEN is a story about holding onto humanity, adapting but not forgetting, surviving without surrendering apathy, and never losing hope in finding a better life.
Emily St. John Mandel writes in a melancholy voice but manages to conjure ethereal images of a world covered in dust, overgrown with vegetation, and populated with people who believe survival is insufficient.