What If the All the Electricity Shuts Off?

Review by Lisa Navidi, Davis Library

What do you think you would miss the most if suddenly all electricity were shut off? How would you adapt?

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel explores this question through a well-written, character driven novel. At its base, it is science fiction. But there are no spaceships or strange robots taking over the planet.

Arthur Leander, a famous actor, dies of a heart attack on stage during a performance of King Lear. Within a week, 99% of the population of Earth had died from a flu pandemic of unprecedented virulence.

Told through the voice of each character who either knew or met Arthur, we learn what life becomes and how they adapt. Through flashbacks, we learn about Arthur’s life and spend as much time in the past as we do in the post-flu era, getting a backstory for each character.

We meet his two wives, Miranda and Elizabeth, as well as his latest girlfriend, and his best friend, Clark. We meet Kirsten, an 8 year old actress who’s with Arthur when he dies, and Jeevan, an EMT-in training who leaps onto the stage to try to save Arthur.

We glimpse life post-flu era through their eyes. And those are the only lives we see. The reader has no clue as to how the rest of the world is adjusting.

Kirsten continues her acting career in a travelling symphony, where they not only play music but also perform Shakespeare.  Through Kirsten, we meet the other performers who strangely take on the names of their instruments. As they travel through the lakeshores of Huron and Michigan, Mandel explains how these hardy survivors have adapted in every way to their new lifestyle. Kirsten’s tattoo, a quote from Star Trek says it all, “Survival in not sufficient”.

As the symphony travels along the shore, they return to a small town to reunite with former symphony members But their friends have fled the town and with good reason. A man calling himself The Prophet has taken over the town and demands complete obedience. He also takes young women as his wives, willingly or not.

Clark meets Elizabeth, along with her young son on an airplane headed to Toronto for Arthur’s funeral when all flights all canceled and they, along with many other passengers, are stranded at an airport in the Midwest. There they began a new life in the airport, adjusting, as people must. As the years go by, Clark starts the Museum of Civilization, where he displays found and donated objects from the old world: cell phones, stiletto heels, credit cards and a motorcycle. Elizabeth and her son leave with a religious group, who are sure they are the “Light” because they survived.

Jeevan, perhaps the luckiest, finds a small town and becomes the “doctor” there, despite his limited medical experience.

Do all the characters finally meet? What does the title Station Eleven mean and what does it have to do with plot? Is there ever a return to the pre-flu world? You will have to read this fascinating novel of survival to find out.

If the novel is not enough for you, HBO Max Streaming Service is releasing it as a limited series in 2020. You had better read it now before the series begins and everyone wants to read it!