Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel which details the lives of various characters after the spreading of a fatal disease wipes out most of civilisation. Within hours of coming into contact with the illness people become incredibly ill, and then die within a matter of days. Airports are shut down; people barricade themselves in their homes or flee their cities. However, a handful of people appear to escape contamination. Whether a select few are immune to the disease or are just lucky enough not to come into contact with it is unclear.
The novel tracks multiple groups and individuals, both before and after the epidemic. The novel begins with the death of famous actor Arthur Leander (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the novel’s description) whilst he is onstage playing King Lear. Arthur is one of the characters that we learn most about in Station Eleven, as the tale of his life, career, and various marriages is scattered amongst the rest of the narrative. We also see a little from Arthur’s first wife, Miranda, and his friend Clark. Another character who is key is Kirsten. She is introduced to us as a child actor in the production which Arthur collapses during, and we track her for the rest of the novel. After the disease, her and a group of other remaining actors and musicians travel amongst the communities that have sprung up in America, primarily performing Shakespeare in a group titled “The Symphony”. Finally, we have Jeevan, a man training to be a paramedic who is in the audience when Arthur collapses. We also learn later that Jeevan has encountered both Arthur and Miranda before, during his brief stint as an entertainment journalist.
That’s a pretty lengthy explanation, but the novel covers a lot of territory, both geographically and in terms of however many characters it juggles. This tells you a lot about how I feel about the novel, but my main criticism is that it wasn’t long enough. I think the management of the various perspectives could’ve been handled better. The pacing and the ordering of the chapters once we learn about the initial illness seemed off to me – sometimes I would forget that other groups of characters existed because the novel spends so long in the head of one character. However, there is little that I would want to cut from the book, so the only solution I can see is for it to have been longer! It definitely functions well as a standalone, so I would be reluctant to suggest splitting into more installments, but I would have gladly read a much longer telling of events.
The aspect that I wished was more central to the novel was the journey of Kirsten and The Symphony. I would gladly read a whole book about the group, and I feel that there could have been a lot more stories to share there. Going into the novel, I believed that the group was the sole focus of the novel, but I’d say it was given about equal attention to the other perspectives in the book. I also really enjoyed the connections that were drawn between the characters in the novel. I won’t share any of them, so as not to spoil the book, but many of them I didn’t see coming. I think I only worked out one before it was explicitly revealed to the reader. The weaving together of the narrative was certainly extremely impressive.
One interesting comparison that I think can be made, stylistically, is between Station Eleven and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. The narrative of a famous actor, particularly the details and on goings that led to various marriages, struck a chord of recognition for me whilst I was reading. (I never wrote a proper review anywhere for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but if you’re debating reading it you definitely should!)
I can’t believe I had this book hanging around on my shelf so long before picking it up (we’re talking years), but it was definitely worth the wait! Thanks for reading my review, and if you’d like to check out my bookish progress in the gaps between my blog posts, my Goodreads is always linked in my header with my other social media – I’d love to hear from you!