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Pages to Screen: Station Eleven

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In this second edition of Pages to Screen, I compare and contrast Station Eleven to the novel that inspired it.


I recently finished watching the HBO Max show Station Eleven based on the Emily St. John Mandel novel by the same name. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.

How does the show match up?

I enjoyed the novel but also had one major issue with it. Who survived the super flu struck me as too coincidental. I understand interconnectedness and six degrees of separation are themes running through the novel. Still, it bothered me how all the narrative voice characters, including the protagonist and antagonist, are connected to actor Arthur Leander, who dies of a heart attack hours, maybe only minutes, before the super flu devastates the United States. On top of that, the protagonist and antagonist are further connected by a graphic novel by Leander's ex-girlfriend. The coincidences piled up too high for me not to find them distracting. I'm sure many readers will believe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill.

Thematically, the show follows the book beat by beat. Interconnectedness and the importance of art to human civilization and existence ring loud and clear. The plot was streamlined to fit the television format. Overall, the changes weren't terrible, but I think the novel's antagonist was far more disturbing.

Does the show fall short?

The novel's brilliance lies in how Mandel shows us the importance of art to human existence, even in a future where civilization has been devastated by disease. The miniseries tries to do this but can't quite pull it off to the same effect. The themes are there but don't ring as loudly without Mandel's sparkling prose.

Also, portions of the show are downright slow, if not entirely dull, as it teases out the story's themes. I for one never found the novel boring at all.

Should I watch the show or read the book?

Do yourself a favor, skip the show and read the book! The miniseries isn't bad, but it doesn't do the book justice. Even with the issues I had with the story, I still found it a fantastic read that has inspired me to seek out other novels by Emily St. John Mandel.

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