In One Word

In One Word, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is…

station eleven

  • Published in 2014 by Knopf
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Jack Hawkins
    • Listening Speed: 1x
  • Listening Time: 3 exciting days


  • So, I don’t know if this is the best time or the worst time to be reading this. I picked this for the GirlXOXO’s Monthly Motifs Reading Challenge back at the start of the year before everything kicked off. This month’s challenge was a book with a number in the title and I’ve heard good things about it so this fit the bill nicely.


  • Places the reader into a performance of King Lear where an ageing Hollywood actor dies on stage on a snowy night in Toronto. Mere hours later, the Georgia flu begins its destructive course around the world, killing 99% of the population. Those that survive the initial purge of humanity not only have to decide how to survive but how to rebuild humanity. The Travelling Symphony, for instance, decide to travel around the remote villages to perform Shakespeare and bring some joy into a bleak landscape. Some, however, have much less noble intentions.


  • Excellently builds up the tension and the feeling that something isn’t right with towns led by the Prophet without showing anything graphic. The readers are also left in no doubt that, while some have managed to form fair societies and those are the ones most often shown in the book, cruelty isn’t a thing that died out when the pandemic hit. The worst threat, of course, comes from the cults who, in the absence of a clear reason for the catastrophe, extrapolated their own that suited their own third for power.


  • Characters are the centre of the story. All of them are very well developed, especially Kirsten, Miranda and Clark. The most heartbreaking scenes are from Clark’s perspective as he and his fellow passengers wait for help that will never arrive. It wasn’t a massive panic as news of the devastation hit but a slow winnowing of hope over time as they realise no one is going to come for them so they might as well make themselves at home. It’s not the big tragedies that will get to you but the dozens of little ones.


  • Using the graphic novel featuring the titular Station Eleven to tie together some of the stories. It’s interesting to see how it was passed around the characters and how unexpectedly important it became to them.


  • Lovely style. There’s a calm, almost dream-like quality to it so, even in moments of high drama, it never feels overblown. As a result, even when reading it in the middle of a real world pandemic, this book is never frightening. There are some excellent quotes in there and the world building (or un-building, as the case may be) is excellent. The book is full of little details and intricacies that made every minute a pleasure to listen to. It made it so hard to stop listening to, I can tell you.


  • A repeated theme is of lost dreams and regrets – characters wishing they had done things differently, the thoughts of what could have been if the pandemic hadn’t hit and what was lost forever when civilisation fell apart. It makes for a very poignant read that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to move you to tears.


  • There could have been more done on the Prophet’s plotline. What we saw of him certainly sent a chill up my spine and I was ready for a dramatic final confrontation. While there was a confrontation, I don’t think it lived up to all the build-up. We have fragments of his story that we could put together to make a tragic image but there are several missing in this story that the book could have elaborated on.


  • It feels like the story had been torn into pieces and the fragments scattered in the wind. This is less a story and more several slices of life interwoven with each other. It does make the story feel a bit disjointed at times and it’s easy to forget where everyone is up to when the story switches back to them. Thankfully, that style is very fitting for a story about a world where civilisation has crumbled and everyone has suddenly become disconnected from the world. Strangely enough, the book doesn’t focus on the horror of the immediate aftermath but on a point 20 years after the pandemic, where things have settled down and a ‘new normal’ has taken over.


  • Very much an exploration of a strange new world and an exploration of the characters both parts and present rather than a straight story. The reader sees the world falling apart and then slowly picking itself up again. Of course, the current situation is far less serious than the one in this book but, when the characters point out that Shakespeare wrote some great plays during a plague, I can’t help but get a sense of deja vu.


  • Ending fell a little flat for me. It was tentatively hopeful but didn’t build on it. Then again, it doesn’t ruin the book too much for me. If there’s a sequel planned, I can see where it might go. If there isn’t, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. In fact, I’d rather like to read it again so I could pick up on all the things I know now I’ve finished it and be able to put the pieces together more effectively. This book definitely has a lot of re-read value.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

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