Emily St John Mandel Seeks help in getting divorced on Wikipedia

The author of the post-apocalyptic book “Station Eleven” recently found herself in an unusual dilemma. But like any good novelist, she figured out a way to write her way out of it, thanks to some extra help from the internet.

It is rare for artists to want to talk about their love life in interviews. But Emily St John Mandel, the best-selling author of Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel and this year’s The Sea of Tranquility, is insisting on it.

Over the weekend, Ms Mandel put a call-out on social media asking for helping getting her marital status updated on her Wikipedia page. The online, user-edited encyclopaedia said she was married, but in fact, she is not: her divorce from her husband was finalised in November.

But when the Canadian author tried to amend the page, she found herself in a bit of a “Kafkaesque” situation. Emily St. John Mandel, seeking a way to update her Wikipedia page to say that she was no longer married, took to Twitter to say the only way to update a Wikipedia page after a divorce was to cite an interview where the subject confirmed as much.

“So anyway all I want for Christmas is for a journalist writing a story for publication (online-only is fine!) to ask me if I’m still married,” she tweeted.

Two hours later, Mandel was granted her Christmas wish.

Interviews usually happen in accordance with a publication schedule – with the paperback edition of The Sea of Tranquility not due until April, it could be months before she corrected the record.

So this weekend she turned to social media, to see if any journalists would want to ask her about her marital status in an interview. The BBC was all too happy to offer assistance, as did Slate. Now, all is right with her Wikipedia page.

Ms Mandel finds herself in good company – in 2012, author Philip Roth wrote an open-letter to Wikipedia that was published in the New Yorker, so that he could correct an inaccuracy about the real-life inspiration for one of his novels.

The incident sounds like the kind of surreal mundanity that could have happened to a character in one of her novels, which are often about the daily rhythms of cataclysmic events, be they pandemics, time travel, Ponzi schemes, or even fame itself.

In her latest book, The Sea of Tranquility, the character of Olive Llewellyn, a stand-in for Ms Mandel, is an author whose book about a pandemic is published just before an actual pandemic takes hold. A similar thing happened to Ms Mandel, whose 2014 novel Station Eleven, about the near-end of humanity after a pandemic, became a bestseller again during the height of Covid-19 and was adapted into a critically acclaimed series on HBO Max.

She said she chose to write about her experiences because it was “such a strange existential moment”.

“I don’t feel like I predicted anything. Pandemics are just something that happens, as horrible as they are. But at the same time, it was kind of an interesting and surreal experience to have spent so much time talking about and travelling in the service of a book about pandemics and then all of a sudden, it’s the real thing and having to compare fact and fiction.” She also mined some of her odd real-life encounters on tour for Station Eleven for the character of Olive. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, it’s great, but if you do hundreds of events that 1% does add-up. I had a collection of sort of surrealist tour moments that I kind of wanted to write about.”