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Station Eleven: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 9, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014: A flight from Russia lands in middle America, its passengers carrying a virus that explodes “like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth.” In a blink, the world as we know it collapses. “No more ballgames played under floodlights,” Emily St. John Mandel writes in this smart and sober homage to life’s smaller pleasures, brutally erased by an apocalypse. “No more trains running under the surface of cities ... No more cities ... No more Internet ... No more avatars.” Survivors become scavengers, roaming the ravaged landscape or clustering in pocket settlements, some of them welcoming, some dangerous. What’s touching about the world of Station Eleven is its ode to what survived, in particular the music and plays performed for wasteland communities by a roving Shakespeare troupe, the Traveling Symphony, whose members form a wounded family of sorts. The story shifts deftly between the fraught post-apocalyptic world and, twenty years earlier, just before the apocalypse, the death of a famous actor, which has a rippling effect across the decades. It’s heartbreaking to watch the troupe strive for more than mere survival. At once terrible and tender, dark and hopeful, Station Eleven is a tragically beautiful novel that both mourns and mocks the things we cherish. –Neal Thompson
2014 National Book Award Finalist
Winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award
One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Buzzfeed, and Entertainment Weekly, Time, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Minnesota Public Radio, The Huffington Post, BookPage, Time Out, Book Riot
Praise for Station Eleven:
“Deeply melancholy, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac . . . A book that I will long remember, and return to.”
— George R. R. Martin
“Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.”
— Ann Patchett
“Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel, Station Eleven, begins with a spectacular end. One night in a Toronto theater, onstage performing the role of King Lear, 51-year-old Arthur Leander has a fatal heart attack. There is barely time for people to absorb this shock when tragedy on a considerably vaster scale arrives in the form of a flu pandemic so lethal that, within weeks, most of the world’s population has been killed . . . Mandel is an exuberant storyteller . . . Readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters’ lives and fates . . . Station Eleven is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale . . . Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages . . . Station Eleven offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”
— Sigrid Nunez, New York Times Book Review
“Last month, when the fiction finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, one stood out from the rest: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel . . . Station Eleven is set in a familiar genre universe, in which a pandemic has destroyed civilization. The twist—the thing that makes Station Eleven National Book Award material—is that the survivors are artists . . . It’s hard to imagine a novel more perfectly suited, in both form and content, to this literary moment . . . Station Eleven, if we were to talk about it in our usual way, would seem like a book that combines high culture and low culture—“literary fiction” and “genre fiction.” But those categories aren’t really adequate to describe the book . . . It brings together these different fictional genres and the values—observation, feeling, erudition—to which they’re linked. . . Instead of being compressed, it blossoms.”
— Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker
“Emily St. John Mandel’s tender and lovely new novel, Station Eleven . . . miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem . . . One of her great feats is that the story feels spun rather than plotted, with seamless shifts in time and characters. . . “Because survival is insufficient,” reads a line taken from Star Trek spray painted on the Traveling Symphony’s lead wagon. The genius of Mandel’s fourth novel . . . is that she lives up to those words. This is not a story of crisis and survival. It’s one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes.”
— Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly
“Spine-tingling . . . Ingenious . . . Ms. Mandel gives the book some extra drama by positioning some of her characters near the brink of self-discovery as disaster approaches. The plague hits so fast that it takes them all by surprise . . . Ms. Mandel is able to tap into the poignancy of lives cut short at a terrible time — or, in one case, of a life that goes on long after wrongs could be righted."
— Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“In Station Eleven , by Emily St. John Mandel, the Georgia Flu becomes airborne the night Arthur Leander dies during his performance as King Lear. Within months, all airplanes are grounded, cars run out of gas and electricity flickers out as most of the world’s population dies. The details of Arthur’s life before the flu and what happens afterward to his friends, wives and lovers create a surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid such devastation. Among the survivors are Kirsten, a child actor at the time of Arthur’s death who lives with no memory of what happened to her the first year after the flu . . . A gorgeous retelling of Lear unfolds through Arthur’s flashbacks and Kirsten’s attempt to stay alive.”
— Nancy Hightower, The Washington Post
“My book of the year is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I chose this book, because it surprised me. I’ve read a number of post-apocalyptic novels over the years and most of them are decidedly ungenerous toward humans and their brutishness. Station Eleven has their same sense of danger and difficulty, but still reads as more of a love letter — acknowledging all those things we would most miss and all those things we would still have.”
— Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
"I get slightly angry when I finish any good book — I’m miffed that I’m not reading it anymore, and that I’ll never be able to read it again for the first time. The last good book I read was Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.”
— Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket
“Even if you think dystopian fiction is not your thing, I urge you to give this marvelous novel a try. The plot revolves around a pandemic that shatters the world as we know it into isolated settlements and the Traveling Symphony, a roving band of actors and musicians who remind those who survived the catastrophe about hope and humanity. The questions raised by this emotional and thoughtful story—why does my life matter? what distinguishes living from surviving?—will stay with you long after the satisfying conclusion.”
— Doborah Harkness, author of The Book of Life
“Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven sensitively explores the dynamics of . . . a theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony whose musicians and actors perform Shakespeare for small communities around the Great Lakes. Ms. Mandel . . . writ[es] with cool intelligence and poised understatement. Her real interest is in examining friendships and love affairs and the durable consolations of art.”
— Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“This book isn't exactly a feel-good romp, but for a post-apocalyptic novel, Station Eleven comes remarkably close . . . Emily St. John Mandel delivers a beautifully observed walk through her book's 21st century world, as seen by characters who are grappling with what they've lost and what remains. While I was reading it, I kept putting the book down, looking around me, and thinking, ‘Everything is a miracle.’”
“[A] complete post-apocalyptic world is rendered in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, in which a hyper-virulent flu wipes out the majority of the earth’s population and the surviving one percent band into self-governing pods. Think of a more hopeful and female-informed rendering of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . . . Mandel’s novel feels taut and assured... By having a pre- and post-pandemic split screen, she is able to ask questions about artistic creation, fame, and faith against the backgrounds of plenty and scarcity. There is the page-turning plot and compelling characters, but more importantly in a novel that engages with social issues are the questions—not answered but asked.”
— Rob Spillman, Guernica
“So impressive . . . Station Eleven is terrifying, reminding us of how paper-thin the achievements of civilization are. But it’s also surprisingly — and quietly — beautiful . . . As Emily Dickinson knew and as Mandel reminds us, there’s a sumptuousness in destitution, a painful beauty in loss . . . A superb novel. Unlike most postapocalyptic works, it leaves us not fearful for the end of the world but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.”
— Anthony Domestic, San Francisco Chronicle
"Darkly lyrical . . . An appreciation of art, love and the triumph of the human spirit . . . Mandel effortlessly moves between time periods . . . The book is full of beautiful set pieces and landscapes; big, bustling cities before and during the outbreak, an eerily peaceful Malaysian seashore, and an all-but-abandoned Midwest airport-turned museum that becomes an all important setting for the last third of the book . . . Mandel ties up all the loose ends in a smooth and moving way, giving humanity to all her characters — both in a world that you might recognize as the one we all live in today (and perhaps take for granted) and a post-apocalyptic world without electricity, smartphones and the Internet. Station Eleven is a truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down and a pleasure to read."
— Doug Knoop, The Seattle Times
"Mandel’s spectacular, unmissable new novel is set in a near-future dystopia, after most — seriously, 99.99 percent — of the world’s population is killed suddenly and swiftly by a flu pandemic. (Have fun riding the subway after this one!) The perspective shifts between a handful of survivors, all connected to a famous actor who died onstage just before the collapse. A literary page-turner, impeccably paced, which celebrates the world lost while posing questions about art, fame, and what endures after everything, and everyone, is gone."
— Amanda Bullock, Vulture
"Haunting and riveting . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted — from the Internet to eating an orange . . . It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all."
— Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel is, flat-out, one of the best things I’ve read on the ability of art to endure in a good long while. It’s about the ways that civilization is kept alive in a world devastated by a plague, sure, but it’s also about the way artists live, about the way people live, about flawed relationships and creative pursuits and how the unlikeliest of connections can bring transcendence."
— Tobias Carroll, Electric Literature
“Though it centers on civilization’s collapse in the aftermath of a devastating flu, this mesmerizing novel isn’t just apocalyptic fantasy—it’s also an intricately layered character study of human life itself. Jumping back and forth between the decades before and after the pandemic, the narrative interlaces several individuals’ stories, encompassing a universe of emotions and ultimately delivering a view of life that’s both chilling and jubilant.”
— People Magazine
“If you’re planning to write a post-apocalyptic novel, you’re going to have to breathe some new life into it. Emily St. John Mandel does that with her new book, Station Eleven . . . The story is told through several characters, including an A-list actor, his ex-wives, a religious prophet and the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of Shakespearean actors and musicians who travel to settlements performing for the survivors. Each bring a unique perspective to life, relationships and what it means to live in a world returned to the dark ages . . . Mandel doesn’t put the emphasis on the apocalypse itself (the chaos, the scavenging, the scientists trying to find a cure), but instead shows the effects it has on humanity. Despite the state of the world, people find reasons to continue . . . Station Eleven will change the post-apocalyptic genre. While most writers tend to be bleak and clichéd, Mandel chooses to be optimistic and imaginative. This isn’t a story about survival, it’s a story about living.”
— Andrew Blom, The Boston Herald
“A novel that carries a magnificent depth . . . We get to see something that is so difficult to show or feel – how small moments in time link together. And how these moments add up to a life . . . Her best yet. It feels as though she took the experience earned from her previous writing and braided it together to make one gleaming strand . . . An epic book.”
— Claire Cameron, The Globe and Mail
“I’ve been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel ever since her first novel . . . she’s a stunningly beautiful writer whose complex, flawed, and well-drawn characters linger with you long after you set her books down . . . With the release of Station Eleven—a big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel that follows a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming a postapocalyptic world—she’s poised for blockbuster success. Effortlessly combining her flawless craftsmanship, rich insights, and compelling characters with big-budget visions of the end of the world, Station Eleven is hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.”
— Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
“Station Eleven is a complex, eerie novel about the years before and after a pandemic that eliminates most of humanity, save for a troupe of actors and a few traumatized witnesses. Mandel’s novel weaves together a post-apocalyptic reckoning, the life of an actor, and the thoughts of the man who tries to save him. It’s an ambitious premise, but what glues the parts together is Mandel’s vivid, addictive language. It’s easy to see why she’d claim this novel as her most prized: Station Eleven is a triumph of narrative and prose, a beautifully arranged work about art, society, and what’s great about the world we live in now.”
— Claire Luchette, Bustle
“An ambitious and addictive novel.”
— Sarah Hughes, Guardian
“Mandel deviates from the usual and creates what is possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read . . . Beautiful writing . . . An assured handle on human emotions and relationships . . . Though not without tension and a sense of horror, Station Eleven rises above the bleakness of the usual post-apocalyptic novels because its central concept is one so rarely offered in the genre – hope.”
— The Independent (UK)
“A beautiful and unsettling book, the action moves between the old and new world, drawing connections between the characters and their pasts and showing the sweetness of life as we know it now and the value of friendship, love and art over all the vehicles, screens and remote controls that have been rendered obsolete. Mandel's skill in portraying her post-apocalyptic world makes her fictional creation seem a terrifyingly real possibility. Apocalyptic stories once offered the reader a scary view of an alternative reality and the opportunity, on putting the book down, to look around gratefully at the real world. This is a book to make its reader mourn the life we still lead and the privileges we still enjoy.”
— Sunday Express
“A haunting tale of art and the apocalypse. Station Eleven is an unmissable experience.”
— Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season
“There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic thrillers on the shelves these days, but Station Eleven is unusually haunting . . . There is an understated, piercing nostalgia . . . there is humour, amid the collapse . . . and there is Mandel's marvellous creation, the Travelling Symphony, travelling from one scattered gathering of humanity to another . . . There is also a satisfyingly circular mystery, as Mandel unveils neatly, satisfyingly, the links between her disparate characters . . . This book will stay with its readers much longer than more run-of-the-mill thrillers.”
— Alison Flood, Thriller of the Month Observer
“Haunting and riveting . . . Mandel will repeatedly remind us in this book, it's people rather than machines that make the world spin . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted . . . In a move that's sure to draw comparisons with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, Mandel periodically travels backward in time, allowing us to see how blind and selfish such characters were, back in the day when they had so much and lived so small . . . As a result, Station Eleven comes to seem less like a spaceship reflecting how we'll live our dystopian future than a way of thinking about how and where we're traveling here and now. It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all.”
— Mike Fischer, Knoxville News-Sentinel
“Post-apocalyptic scenarios are rarely positive . . . but Mandel’s book embraces a different view while still depicting how difficult living would be in a desolate world.”
— Molly Driscoll, Christian Science Monitor Editors’ Pick
"Enormous scope and an ambitious time-jumping structure, Station Eleven paints its post-apocalyptic world in both bold brushstrokes and tiny points of background detail. As the conflicts of one era illuminate another, a small group of interrelated characters witnesses the collapse of the current historical age and staggers through the first faltering steps of the next . . . [A] powerfully absorbing tale of survival in a quarantined airport and on the dangerous roads between improvised settlements, protected by actors and musicians trained for gunfights. Mandel has imagined this world in full, and her ambition and imagination on display here are admirable."
— Emily Choate, Chapter 16
"Audacious . . . A group of actors and musicians stumble upon each other and now roam the region between Toronto and Chicago as the Traveling Symphony, performing Shakespeare — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet” — for small settlements they find in the wilderness. Their existence alone provides the novel with a strange beauty, even hope, as one actress notes how these plays survived a bubonic plague centuries ago . . . Station Eleven is blessedly free of moralizing, or even much violence. If anything, it’s a book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it."
— Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Station Eleven . . . I couldn't resist . . . You should read it, too . . . It'll make you marvel at the world as we know it . . . [and] remind you the people who drive you the most crazy are perhaps also the ones you don't want to live without."
— Mary Pauline Lowry, Huffington Post Books Blog
“Never has a book convinced me more of society’s looming demise than Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, an apocalyptic novel about a world just like our own that, much as our own might, dissolves after a new strain of influenza eradicates 99 percent of the human population. A soul-quaking premise, and a story that, I must warn, should not be read in a grubby airport surrounded by potential carriers of … whatever disease, take your pick . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy . . . She has exuded talent for years . . . There is such glory in humanity, in what we, through every plague and every age, continue to create — like this book — and in what we are capable of sustaining.”
— Tiffany Gibert, LA Review of Books
"Mandel comes by a now-common genre mash-up, highbrow dystopia, honestly, following three small-press literary thrillers. By focusing on a Shakespeare troupe roving a post-pandemic world of sparse communities, she brings a hard-focus humanity to the form. Repeated flashbacks to the life of an early flu victim, a Hollywood actor who dies onstage in the character of Lear, provide both comic relief and the pathos of a beautifully frivolous world gone by."
— Boris Kachka's 8 Books You Need To Read This September, Vulture
“Disappear inside the exquisite post-apocalyptic world of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and you’ll resurface with a greater appreciation for the art and culture we daily take for granted. With fearless imagination, Mandel recounts the peripatetic adventures of an eccentric band of artists, musicians, playwrights, and actors as they traverse the world’s dreary landscape attempting to keep culture and art alive in the aftermath of a devastating disease that has wiped out much of civilization . . . Strange, poetic, thrilling, and grim all at once, Station Eleven is a prismatic tale about survival, unexpected coincidences, and the significance of art and its oft under-appreciated beauty. ”
— September 2014’s Best Books, Bustle
“The most buzzed-about novel of the season.”
— Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"In this unforgettable, haunting, and almost hallucinatory portrait of life at the edge, those who remain struggle to retain their basic humanity and make connections with the vanished world through art, memory, and remnants of popular culture . . . a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner."
— Lauren Gilbert, Library Journal (starred)
"This fast-paced novel details life before and after a flu wipes out 99 percent of the earth's population . . . As the characters reflect on what gives life meaning in a desolate, postapocalyptic world, readers will be inspired to do the same."
— Real Simple
“Once in a very long while a book becomes a brand new old friend, a story you never knew you always wanted. Station Eleven is that rare find that feels familiar and extraordinary at the same time, expertly weaving together future and present and past, death and life and Shakespeare. This is truly something special.”
— Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
"Station Eleven is a magnificent, compulsive novel that cleverly turns the notion of a “kinder, gentler time” on its head. And, oh, the pleasure of falling down the rabbit hole of Mandel’s imagination -- a dark, shimmering place rich in alarmingly real detail and peopled with such human, such very appealing characters."
— Liza Klaussmann, author of Tigers in Red Weather
"Her best, most ambitious work yet. Post-apocalyptic tales are all the rage this season, but Mandel’s intricate plotting and deftness with drawing character makes this novel of interlinked tales stand out as a beguiling read. Beginning with the onslaught of the deadly Georgian flu and the death of a famous actor onstage, and advancing twenty years into the future to a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors who perform for the few remaining survivors, the novel sits with darkness while searching for the beauty in art and human connection."
— Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2014 Book Preview, The Millions
“Ambitious, magnificent . . . Mandel’s vision is not only achingly beautiful but startlingly plausible, exposing the fragile beauty of the world we inhabit. In the burgeoning postapocalyptic literary genre, Mandel’s transcendent, haunting novel deserves a place alongside The Road, The Passage, and The Dog Stars.”
— Kristine Huntley, Booklist (starred)
“[An] ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness . . . Think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion . . . Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet . . . Magnetic . . . a breakout novel.”
— Kirkus (starred)
“Station Eleven is the kind of book that speaks to dozens of the readers in me---the Hollywood devotee, the comic book fan, the cult junkie, the love lover, the disaster tourist. It is a brilliant novel, and Emily St. John Mandel is astonishing.”
— Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers
“Station Eleven is a firework of a novel. Elegantly constructed and packed with explosive beauty, it's full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.”
— Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
“Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.”
— Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist
"A unique departure from which to examine civilization's wreckage . . . [a] wild fusion of celebrity gossip and grim future . . . Mandel's examination of the connections between individuals with disparate destinies makes a case for the worth of even a single life."
— Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is told by people who are all connected in some way to Arthur Leander, a 51-year-old famous actor who died of a heart attack in Toronto while performing King Lear, just before the outbreak of the “Georgia Flu.”
The mise-en-scène beginning of the story is a microcosm of the book as a whole, which in some ways is a series of set-pieces featuring a traveling band of actors and musicians calling themselves “The Symphony.” At each town of any size they stop and entertain the public with concerts and theatrical performances. While they occasionally do other plays, people tend to prefer Shakespeare the most. “People want what was best about the world,” one of the group explains. Their motto, painted on one of their caravans, and taken from an episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” is “Survival is insufficient.” This is also the saying that the main protagonist, Kirsten Raymonde, has tattooed on her arm.
Kirsten was eight when the flu came, and at the time she was playing a bit part in Leander’s "King Lear" production. She had taken a liking to Leander, and he had given her some science fiction comics penned by his first ex-wife, called the “Station Eleven” series starring “Dr. Eleven,” a physicist who travels around on a space station after aliens took over the Earth. She still carries the comics with her everywhere. Kirsten remembers Arthur vividly, even though she can no longer even recall her own mother.
In alternating chapters, the author moves back and forth between the pre- and postapocalyptic times, and we learn more about Arthur’s life, and about the others who are featured in the book and who knew Arthur.
But this is more than a memoir and ode to a bygone way of life. When The Symphony comes to a town called St. Deborah by the Water, they discover the town is under the control of a religious cult leader calling himself The Prophet, who follows The Symphony after they leave with malicious intent. It is a new race for survival to see if members of The Symphony can reach a rumored haven in a former airport near the old city of Chicago before they are eliminated by this mysterious Prophet. The Airport is said not only to offer a safe place to live in peace, but something called The Museum of Civilization, where travelers have left artifacts of the former world - from credit cards to passports to laptops - so that the next generation can see what the world use to be.
When a showdown comes between Symphony member survivors and The Prophet, a large twist reveals how truly interconnected this pared-down world really is.
Discussion: This story is admirable for foregoing unreal elements that could steer the plot into silliness. I believe it is even supposed to be somewhat uplifting, with its glimpses of the dogged tenacity of nature manifested as the greenery and flowers that reclaim the spaces once overrun by concrete and steel, and of the perseverance of cultural excellence from the old world, such as classical music and Shakespeare. The author notes that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” often performed by the troupe, was written in 1594, the year London’s theaters reopened after two seasons of plague. Plague frequently closed Shakespeare’s theaters, and yet they consistently reopened, in one more way in which the threads of the plot interconnect. Nevertheless, I found the book bleak and depressing. It probably should be, given that it is “post-apocalyptic,” but it was also a bit too “theatrical” for me to get fully invested emotionally in the characters. By presenting the plot in “scenes” and dramatic interludes (echoing not only the plays but the panels of the Station Eleven comic books) rather than an organically evolving story, I felt more conscious of the “literariness” of the book than of being able to lose myself emotionally in the lives of the characters.
There is furthermore an overall tone of quiet and tranquility, which seems at odds with a post-pandemic struggle for survival. It suggests, rather, the dreamy, stage-play metaphor that permeates the prose. This was yet another aspect of the book that kept me distant from it.
Evaluation: In many ways this is an excellent novel, and was included on many “top ten books” lists for 2014. I agree it was very well done, even if, for me, the style tended to overwhelm the substance.
That brings us to one of the main themes of this tale, "survival is insufficient." Taken from a Star Trek episode, the phrase is the motto of the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag band of musicians and actors who roam what's left of the Midwest, playing classical music and performing Shakespeare. The ability to create and appreciate art, they believe, is essential to our humanity. It's what takes us beyond mere survival and makes us something more than animals. I loved this part of the book, how the little settlements of people living in Walmarts and gas stations would rush out to hear Beethoven, tears streaming down their faces. This is one of my favorite angles of post-apocalyptic fiction - once we've figured out how to survive, how do we learn to LIVE again? What exactly is it that makes us human? How do we go about redefining humanity, rebuilding civilization?
The author also touches on the enduring power of art and storytelling, and the ways in which stories connect us all. Beyond the Beethoven and the Shakespeare, there's a comic book called Station Eleven that features prominently (and also gives the novel its name). It was written, somewhat randomly, by the first wife of a very famous Hollywood actor. She wrote the comic for herself and published only two copies, which end up in the hands of two of the main characters post-apocalypse. The comics have a profound impact on both characters (so the obscure art of the obscure ex-wife endures because art is forever, while the Hollywood actor is forgotten because who cares about Hollywood after the end of the world). The stories of the two characters in possession of the comics are mostly separate, though absolutely intertwined - as are ALL of the characters' stories. One of the most amazing aspects of this novel is how all of the characters are connected, both pre- and post-collapse. I kept waiting for many of them to cross paths and realize their connection, their shared stories. Some did, and some didn't - the latter bothered me at first, until I realized that's the way the world works. We're all woven into the same giant tapestry, whether we see the individual threads or not. That, along with King Lear and Beethoven's 9th and unheard-of graphic novels about being stranded in space, is the beauty of humankind.