Station Eleven Summary

Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

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Station Eleven Summary

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Station Eleven is the fourth book by American novelist Emily St. John Mandel. The novel is generally categorized as science fiction, due to its post-apocalyptic setting and themes; however, Mandel has stated that this specific genre label was exactly what she was trying to avoid when writing. Similarly, many of Mandel’s earlier works have been classified as crime fiction despite the author’s assertion that she has attempted to avoid overtones of crime and mystery. This issue of genre appears even in the New York Times review of Station Eleven, where reviewer Sigrid Nunez suggests that the novel is equal parts post-apocalyptic tale and mystery.

The crux of the novel is a pandemic called the Georgia Flu, which decimates Earth’s population almost as soon as it is discovered. Globally, civilization collapses and almost all technology is rendered obsolete. The novel begins in what will become known as Year Zero, immediately before the mass outbreak of the disease. Jeevan Chaudhary, a one-time paparazzo turned paramedic, attends a performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear, headlined by famous film actor Arthur Leander. Arthur Leander suffers a fatal heart attack onstage, and though Jeevan and a cardiologist from the audience do everything they can to resuscitate him, Arthur dies in the theatre. A young actress, playing a child version of Cordelia, witnesses Arthur’s death and is very upset despite Jeevan’s attempts to distract her. It is revealed that Arthur has no close family, though he has been married and divorced three times. Although Arthur has one son (with his ex-wife Elizabeth) in Jerusalem, the producer eventually decides the best person to notify of the actor’s death would be Arthur’s lawyer.

Jeevan walks home alone from the theatre, where he has been left by his girlfriend, who did not even stay to see if Arthur would be alright. On the way, Jeevan receives a call from a college friend informing him that cases of the Georgia Flu appeared in the US that morning, that they are spreading incredibly rapidly, and that the prognosis is not good. The night at the theatre and the sudden death of Arthur Leander is the link between many of the characters in the rest of the novel, which alternates between Arthur’s life before Year Zero and twenty years after the outbreak. Jeevan survives the epidemic in an apartment with his paraplegic brother Frank. Frank eventually commits suicide in order to grant Jeevan the freedom to move around without being hindered. Jeevan eventually finds a settlement where he marries, and finally realizes his vocation by becoming the town doctor.

Kristen Raymonde, who played young Cordelia, becomes obsessed with Arthur after his death and constantly searches old scraps of tabloids (some written by Jeevan) for information about him. She is equally obsessed with a pair of comic books called Dr. Eleven that were given to her by Arthur. It is revealed through flashback that the comics were written by Arthur’s first wife, Miranda Carroll. In Year Twenty, Kristen is an actress with a touring theatre troupe known as the “Travelling Symphony,” which specializes in productions of Shakespeare and classical music. The troupe intends to reconnect with two members who stayed behind the previous year in order to have a baby, but when they arrive in the town it has been taken over by a religious zealot known as “the Prophet,” and the two troupe members are missing. The troupe decides to head for the Museum of Civilization, which happens to be run by one of Arthur’s oldest friends, in an attempt to find their missing friends.

The Museum of Civilization is a collection of now obsolete technology that Clark Thompson set up inside the fictional Severn City Airport, where he settled after the epidemic broke out. Originally Arthur’s second wife, Elizabeth, and their son, Tyler, lived in the airport as well, but they became increasingly religious and radical in the wake of the disease, believing that god saved those worthy of saving. They left the airport in Year Two. While en route to the museum, members of the Travelling Symphony begin disappearing one by one, until only Kristen and her friend August remain. The pair run into a roving band of the Prophet’s men, who hold another member of the troupe prisoner. They manage to kill the men and free their missing friend Sayid, rushing desperately to the airport. However, they are found out by the Prophet himself, who intends to kill them. Kristen realizes that the Prophet has named his dog the same thing as Dr. Eleven names his in the comic books, and that he is quoting lines of it. She quotes from it herself, which distracts the Prophet—now revealed to be Arthur’s son Tyler—long enough for him to be killed by one of his own men.

Some of the major themes of the novel are the importance of the preservation of art, the fragility of technology, and the interconnectedness of all human life. The novel has also received some criticism with regard to the portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world. Nunez argues in her review that not much has really changed in the daily lives of the characters, and that not enough focus is placed on the difficulties of surviving in such a world.