“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – book review

What this brilliant new read is NOT :

It is not a science fiction novel.

It is not a thriller or solely a dystopian vision of a post-apocalyptic world.

It is not just about pandemics or Shakespeare or nostalgia or comic books or Prophets.

Well, actually, it is all of the above, but it is so well written that it would be wrong to try and fit this book into any kind of genre, although I would be reckless enough to suggest that it’s got all the elements of a very well crafted mystery story, on top of everything else.

“Station Eleven” is one of my top reads so far this year (I know, it’s only March) : it’s a real page-turner, the plot moves effortlessly backwards and forwards in time, dropping clues and picking up threads from the first to the very last page. You care about the characters and you love the obvious fascination with hope springing eternal, yet there is never anything too trite about the idea of stripping everything right back to see what the human race will do under strife.

Am still basking in the joy of meeting the author tonight at the exciting (I don’t get out very often) reader event held at the unique Shakespeare and Company in the Latin Quarter. Emily St. John Mandel is an articulate, intelligent, (young!!) woman who read from her book beautifully and really put across her strong feelings about the importance of memory and nostalgia for the amazing things that occur continuously in everyday life which we all take for granted, and she also mentioned her recent awareness of being slotted into one of these ‘genres’, even if she feels her novels cut across various different styles. (Thank you so much B for the picture – proof we were indeed there…).


I enjoyed reading the NY Times review by Sigrid Nunez recently, but I beg to differ with the comment that the book falters by the futuristic characters not behaving very much more differently than we do today. That for me is exactly what makes the tale so very credible.

Here’s a taste of the Incomplete List from an early section of the book that she read to us :

“No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows… No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position – but no, this wasn’t true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars… In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage… No more countries, all borders unmanned…. No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches… No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room.”

It’s a chilling prospect, don’t you agree (especially for one recently embarked on this blog project, n’est-ce pas?).

I came to this great book via a great recommendation (thank you, K!), and am poised now, ready to discover more from this same author. Jolly nice to be able to purchase “The Lola Quartet” tonight, and have it signed and dedicated to my 16 year old – who is currently 2/3rds of the way through “Station Eleven” at the time of writing, and thinks that it has all the makings of a very fine film. Handled with kid gloves, I think she could be right.

Read in February 2015.

Rating : 10/10

Images taken from here.
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20 Responses to “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – book review

  1. Pingback: “Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction” Longlist 2015 | Literary ramblings etc

  2. Julie says:

    So very sorry to have missed this author event – thanks for the photo. I am half way through the book and am enjoying her writing style. I am trying to join the threads and clues at the moment and am enthralled where it might be leading

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hopefully the ending will not disappoint… These author/reader events are really great – hopefully there will be other opportunities over forthcoming weeks/months. Watch this space ….


  4. Julie says:

    Check out Emily St John Mandel’s twitter feed @EmilyMandel and you can see her tweet on 23rd Dec 2014 telling us she has sold the film rights!
    Scott Steindorff, producer of CHEF and JANE GOT A GUN, has acquired the film and TV rights to Station Eleven. The producers reportedly paid six figures for the option from Curtis Brown (literary agent).
    So who should we be casting in the lead roles and which locations will be used for filming?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well I don’t really mind as long as Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Fassbender and Grégory Fitoussi are all there somewhere on the screen…


  6. Julie says:

    I just downloaded the free sample of THE LOLA QUARTER by Emily St. John Mandel and have read the first 4 chapters of Part One. I’m now hooked and have to buy it. Love the way she hooks the reader in from the very beginning, even the first page, the 3rd paragraph.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Let me know when you have finished it – ‘ploughing’ through shortlist books now and had promised myself I’d then dive into “Middlemarch”, but am really keen to read more EStJM – feedback please!


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  10. Julie says:

    I tried to persuade my book group to read STATION ELEVEN but it was quite difficult to make it sound appealing verbally! It was dismissed pretty quickly with, “Ugh so it’s a science fiction dystopian novel.” I was floundering with, “Well yes but not just that – there’s a quirky troupe of actors who perform Shakespearian plays..” and by then I had promptly dug myself deeper into the hole of no return. I think I’m going to forward the members your opening paragraphs about what the novel is NOT… I want everyone I know to read it. It has such humour and a freshness about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. When we went to the author evening at Shakespeare and co. ESJM explained how frustrating it can be to be put in a box, as it were, and labelled in a certain way, and I agree with you that it would be such a shame not to start this book because of this. Defy anyone who reads 20 pages not to be totally hooked. Do let me know what the outcome is, Nicolax


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  13. Julie says:

    I’ve just finished THE LOLA QUARTET which was first published in 2012 so is the book before STATION ELEVEN. I read one critic who said that the book should come with a health warning, advising you not to read the first 4 paragraphs unless you have an additional 4 hours to spare. And indeed the opening of the novel does suck you in. Very gripping, tense and a page turner and there’s a sadness about the characters who are all so young and are always struggling. You come away feeling grateful that you don’t inhabit their world but it’s fascinating being part of it for the 4 hours you are with them.
    Did you read it yet?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Julie, I have not yet started it but did buy it at the author evening on “Station Eleven” and will now hoik it up to the top of the pile – it is the perfect excuse to devote 4+ hours to being sucked into the story. So enjoyed the other book that have high expectations, even greater after reading your comment. Will get back to you from the other side… Nicolax


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  16. Monique says:

    Hi Nicola,
    Have just this minute finished reading Station Eleven on J’s recommendation, and really enjoyed it, was struck with the nostalgia of these things we take for granted and live with, but at the same time could easily follow the author into a world where these things do not exist anymore. Also loved the extract she read at Shakespeare &Co. Have gone there and bought the 2 novels, obviously missed the event in March, but unlike J and you started with The Lola Quartet. Having read both, and although I enjoyed TLQ and its end of teen years musicians atmosphere, I have to admit that Station Eleven is more powerful, creating this brave new world.
    Looking forward to the film!
    Incidentally, Station Eleven IS on our book group list for next year! xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Monique – very happy that you enjoyed it and you will have to let me know what the book group’s overall view of the book is when you discuss it. I have yet to read TLQ, but is sitting in that gigantic pile waiting patiently for me to pick it up.
    Your comment is SO beautifully timed, as it reminded me to check out the upcoming Shakespeare & Company author events – and there are two I am so excited about taking place in early July – Jonathon Safran Foer and Zadie Smith – THANK YOU!!!! Are you in Paris then ? Nxx


    • Monique says:

      Hi Nicola,
      Will leave J to let you know about the book group view on Station Eleven, scheduled in October. I could not convince a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago to go to Shakespeare and Company and hear Douglas Kennedy talk about his latest novel “The Heat of Betrayal”, in two minds about his books, some are great and some…not so great. Curious about this one. Anyway am here early July, maybe for Zadie Smith?? Monique xx

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Hello Monique – I will definitely try to go so let me know if you may be thinking of going too – I think it will be fun. I have ZS’s “Changing My Mind” essays and see that she writes about the ‘world of great books and bad movies’, so will aim to read at least that chapter beforehand, very intrigued. Hope to see you there xxx


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