Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a novel about a pandemic that swiftly wipes out most of the world's population. The novel follows several characters before, during, and after the pandemic hits. I would describe this book as a post-apocalyptic novel and a work of speculative fiction, because it speculates on what would happen and how people would react and adapt if a catastrophic plague spread across the world.
There are several characters who could be considered main characters. The novel begins with Jeevan, a young student who aspires to be an EMT; he is attending a production of King Lear starring a famous actor named Arthur Leandre. The actor dies of a heart attack on stage, and soon after, Jeevan receives a call from a friend who works in a hospital, breaking the news about the pandemic. Also at the theater the night of King Lear is a child actor named Kirsten Raymonde. She becomes, essentially, the central character of the novel when we pick up with her life after the pandemic, when she is part of a traveling theater group that performs Shakespeare's plays for the small settlements of people that remain. Another major character is Miranda, who was once married to Arthur. Miranda is especially important because she is the author of the Station Eleven graphic novels. The novels are given to Kirsten by Arthur when they work on King Lear together. Throughout the novel, we follow these characters' lives, some of which end during the pandemic.
The Traveling Symphony is important because it suggests that art and culture always have a place in the world, regardless of how dire the circumstances may be. The actors and musicians believe that their role is to provide therapeutic art and beauty to the remaining survivors. The Station Eleven graphic novels, like Shakespeare's plays, live beyond the pandemic. They offer an image of an alternate universe, which is what the post-pandemic world feels like to the characters.