'Station Eleven' Author Emily St. John Mandel Tackles What Comes After the World's End

Oct 25, 2014

Imagine a world cloaked in silence. Silence that's interrupted by occasional gunfire. A world where you are one of the few people left alive. The other 99 percent have all died - all from a pandemic flu.

That's where Emily St. John Mandel's new novel, "Station Eleven"  begins. Amid all of the current panic surrounding Ebola, this book seems surprisingly topical. But "Station Eleven" is not your usual science fiction, post-apocalyptic story. Mandel likes to call it a story of "a Shakespearean theater company navigating celebrity, disastrous dinner parties, and friendship after the world, as we know it, has ended."

Emily St. John Mandel sits down with Texas Standard’s Emily Donahue to talk about her novel, that's just been short-listed for the National Book Award

When Mandel first decided to write her story she says she stopped to consider all of the ways in which the majority of the world’s population could theoretically be killed. She eventually decided on the flu because of its high plausibility. “When you read about the history of pandemics … you begin to realize that if you write a book about a premise where a civilization falls to disease, you’re just writing an exaggeration of a non-fictional premise,” Mandel says.

The outbreak of Ebola and the release of book seem oddly coincidental, but Mandel feels otherwise. “As I was writing this book I was very aware of this success of pandemics … in a strange way it makes the current Ebola epidemic seem no less terrible, but not like a such a huge coincidence that my book and Ebola are happening at the same time,” Mandel says.

Although "Station Eleven" takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, the book is not pulled down by a persistently heavy tone - which Mandel worked hard to avoid from the beginning. “What I’ve tried to do ... is to write about deadly serious topics with a certain lightness of touch,” Mandel says. “If you’re writing about something as vast and horrific as the end of world, and the premise of the book is that 99 percent of the population dies, if you’re overwrought with that and you’re hitting the reader over the head with the nightmare of it, it’s just too much.”

Mandel also chooses to go one step beyond many post-apocalyptic book. She takes the characters beyond the chaos and into the exploration of what comes next. “You hesitate to put any positive spin on an epidemic, but the incredible quiet of a world in which almost everyone is gone is an interesting thing to consider as I was writing it. Of course it would be horrific and unspeakable… but it would also be beautiful. There would be this incredible quiet. The image I [saw] was of cities being taken over by forests,” Mandel says.

After her initial National Book Award nomination, and making the shortlist nominations cut, Mandel feels that she is reaching a much broader audience. “It’s my fourth book … and I never had anything close to the kind of attention that "Station Eleven" has gotten. The National Book Award nomination is extraordinary,” she said. “I am so grateful to have the opportunity to find more readers for my work.”

Emily St. John Mandel will be at the Texas Book Festival to speak about her novel, Station Eleven​, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. in the Kirkus Reviews Tent. 

This post was put together by Sarah Talaat, Texas Standard intern.