It all began, Emily St. John Mandel says, when she “thought it would be interesting to write about the life of an actor. I was specifically interested in considering what it means to devote a life to one’s art. At the same time, I’d been considering writing a novel about a traveling Shakespearean theater company.” But then the idea took a unexpected turn from Mandel’s usual realm of literary noir into the world of postapocalyptic fiction. Station 11 (Knopf, Sept.) begins with a famous Hollywood actor dying onstage during a production of King Lear. Within hours, an apocalyptic flu pandemic is spreading across North America, destroying the world as we know it.
The novel, according to Mandel, goes back and forth in time between the life of a film actor, in more or less the present day, and a time 15 years after the flu pandemic, as a group of traveling musicians and Shakespearean actors move between the scattered settlements of an altered world. “It seems to me that in a postapocalyptic era, people would want to remember what was best about the vanished world,” she says, “and for that reason I liked the idea of a traveling company bringing music and Shakespeare to communities of survivors.”
Although her three previous novels (Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet) were all Indie Next Picks and The Singer’s Gun was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystère de la Critique in France, Mandel still works two jobs. She’s a staff writer for the Millions, an online magazine, and a part-time administrative assistant at a cancer research lab in New York City. “It’s the holy grail of part-time jobs because it comes with health insurance and they all respect my strange double life”—a double life that promises to get a lot more hectic come fall. “It’s a massive in-house favorite,” says her editor, Jennifer Jackson. “Many of our sales reps were already fans of Emily’s work, and the news that she was joining us here at Knopf was met with enormous excitement. Station 11 is her best book yet and we’re thrilled to have the chance to break out this talented young writer.”
Mandel is part of the BEA Adult Buzz Author Panel today, 10–11 a.m., at the Downtown Stage in the Javits Center.