Team Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
333 pages
Published by Vintage, 2015
Genre: Fiction, sci-fi
Indiana’s Rating: 2 out of 5 stars, Pete’s Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: We’re sure some people will reread this book. We won’t be part of that group.

Pete: Station Eleven opens with several terrifying chapters of an unfolding pandemic in Toronto, Canada. It made me squirm in its realism and brutality. After those first 30 pages, I never got this feeling again.

Indiana: This is the second time I tried to get into the book. The first time I just had a hard time being sucked into the apocalyptic scenario. This time it was a little easier to believe at first, but after it’s discovered that most of the population is wiped out, I felt like there was a strange and sterile stillness to the plot. Like the author kept sucking us back into the minds of these random characters that only subliminally seemed to matter at the start of the book. The “present” tense was interesting, but it wasn’t focused on as much as it could have been.

Pete: I didn’t find the flashbacks to add anything to the plot. Miranda’s character was especially useless, as was Arthur. Clark’s past story was boring, and the “Station Eleven” comic-book within a book felt like a cheap trick to add symbolism and depth (not that it did either very well).

Indiana: Agreed. The weird “prophet” that just kept creeping up throughout the book could have been really interesting, but I didn’t think it was ever fully realized or explored. If it were the end of the world, there would most likely be prophets popping up left and right, north and south, east and well, you get it. I’m pretty sure the Bible says so somewhere. But, like I said, the prophet was only given a few pages of the entire book.

Pete: The Prophet felt like an attempt to add a villain, and it just fell flat. In fact, I’m not sure if I found the present-day part of the book much more engaging than the past. The plot boiled down to Kirsten’s attempt to find her long-lost friends, but it didn’t have any meat on its bones beyond that. Kirsten has seen some stuff and had a rough life. She felt less like a character and more like a stand-in for your average post-Year-Zero survivor.

Indiana: Just your average Joe, trying to survive the apocalypse, right? What did you think of the acting troupe traveling around and performing Shakespearean plays for seemingly-ghost towns? I thought the idea was at least a neat one and it was something that originally drew me to the book.

Pete: It was a neat one that wasn’t explored at all! The performances stopped after the very beginning of the book. A lot of people told me that this book was about a Shakespeare company in the apocalypse, but I don’t feel like that’s true for 90% of the book. They were just a band of survivors like everyone else.

Indiana: Yeah, I have to agree with you on that one. We only get a few glimpses of their performances. It feels more like a plot device to move this group of people from place to place than a central part of the novel. I wish we had liked it more. Maybe we should revisit it in a few years and see if we feel the same. Sometimes my opinion of a book can completely change after a few years.

Pete: Like many award-winners, this was a book whose appeal was entirely lost on me. I think it was Mandel’s reluctant, armchair sci-fi style that failed to weave any illusions in Station Eleven.

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