Book Review: Station 11, The Good, The Bad, and The Boring


Autumn Smith

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel is a book that makes you think about many things, like your place in a technology filled world, and more throughout the novel, but when you look closely at the fundamentals, like the characters of the novel, it seems to fall flat.

The novel follows a whole cast of characters after society has collapsed due to a super flu that sweeps across the world and wipes out most of the population. As a result, Kirsten, Jeevan, and Clark all learn to live not merely survive in this world.

The book regularly illustrates the idea that “survival is insufficient” for the characters living after the collapse.

Kirsten is so obsessed with the idea that she got it tattooed on her body and regularly returns to this idea, even though I would argue that she herself is only surviving.

There are also regular flashbacks to the world before the collapse of civilization focusing on the lives of Arthur, Miranda, Jeevan, and Clark.

The flashbacks follow the lives of these characters whom revolve around the life of Arthur Leander, an actor who dies of a heart attack at the start of the novel right before the collapse.

The present (or 20 years after the flu) predominantly follows Kirsten and the travelling symphony she’s apart of as they explore what used to be the Great Lakes region.

The novel conveys some messages that are very deep and overall add a lot to the novel.

The themes of humanity and identity throughout the novel leads to the novel being really interesting and makes readers really think about their own lives and what identity means to them.

The novel discusses identity without the boundaries of society, what it means to really be human, human nature in the absence of society and many more themes that inspire thought in the reader.

Readers find themselves wondering about society and all that would be lost in the wake of a total collapse, including what would be left of them.

The novel leads to interesting conversations about dependence on technology, everything we take for granted as a society, and even if you would be able to survive in a world without a real society.

However, too much focus was put on the themes and the grand scale meaning of the book, and not enough on the basics of the characters.

The characters often fall flat because there are so many of them; as a result, Mandel didn’t take adequate time to truly develop each of them.

Characters like Kirsten and Miranda don’t change much throughout the novel, all of their major flaws are still in tact and their views don’t really evolve.

Miranda does technically change, however, all of her change happens when the novel isn’t focusing on her. Miranda starts as a relatively naive and very emotional woman.

We see this through her interactions with Arthur before they started dating, when she was dating her abusive former boyfriend, and throughout her relationship with Arthur until he cheats on her.

Then, in the next flashback, she is a cold, unfeeling woman. Readers know it was because everything Arthur and her former boyfriend put her through, but we never really see this change. We are merely told, and this feels less genuine and more contrived.

Kirsten is another character that really falls flat. Overall, Kirsten would be considered the main character of the novel; however, she doesn’t develop like a main character; she remains stagnant.

Kirsten is a character that is the cause of many of the moments that cause deep thought in readers, like the “survival is insufficient” idea, and her connection to both the past and the present, and her memories of the past, given her age at the time, and the trauma of the collapse.

However, as a character, she never grows past her flaws. She is a character that avidly uses the Station 11 comics and her obsession with Arthur to avoid her reality and not move forward. And this never changes; her obsession never goes away and she never tries to really accept her future.

She doesn’t really learn anything from the challenges she faces, like her experience with the Prophet and being separated from the symphony for a while.

Kirsten is a bad main character because a main character has to grow and evolve through the novel, and Kirsten doesn’t.

Of course, in deeper reflection, perhaps these characters are too realistic. Real people often do not change, many hold onto their flaws their entire lives, we don’t necessarily evolve. So these characters don’t fit into the expected role of character development. For me, reading is about being a part of a different world, and that’s not really what this novel is offering.

I guess, I could say it’s a testament to Mandel that her characters are so realistic that I don’t like them.

Aside from this, many aspects of the novel feel as though they were added last minute like Frank’s paralysis, and Arthur’s revelation about wanting to be with his son.

Even characters that change tend to feel a little pointless, like Jeevan. It is hard to see what Jeevan brings to the novel that wasn’t there before from a different character.

When he finally makes an impact at the end, seeing how he has adapted and created a family, it feels insignificant next to how bland he had been for the entire book.

Overall, if you look from far away and completely normal, realistic characters don’t bother you, it is a very good book and is well worth the read; however, if those things bother you, maybe you shouldn’t bother picking it up.