Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

This is the third novel by Emily St. John Mandel that I’ve read this month. I’m binge-reading her books in no particular order, starting with the most recent, but that’s also pretty much her style. The books are told in non-linear fashion, with many different characters who meet and interact, or don’t, over a long period of time — in this case decades, but in her other books, centuries. There are common themes to all those books which I’ve read, including the possibilities of alternative universes and time travel, though she hardly qualifies as a ‘science fiction’ writer.

Station Eleven is mostly set in the near future when a virus known as the Georgian Flu kills off 99% of the human race in just a few weeks. But this is no ‘Mad Max’ dystopia – it’s mostly about a group of actors and musicians who travel from town to town in Michigan and Canada, performing music and Shakespeare plays. There is quite a lot of coincidence going on here and it’s very playful in that sense – you almost want to shout at the characters: ‘Ask him his name! Find out who is mother was!’ And so on. Paths cross and the characters don’t always see this as clearly as we do. But sometimes we too only see those in retrospect. This is another finely-crafted, compelling story about mostly ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Highly recommended.