- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 2, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804172447
- ISBN-13: 978-0804172448
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3,919 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Station Eleven Paperback – June 2, 2015
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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, BookRiot
“Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.”
— Ann Patchett
“A superb novel . . . [that] leaves us not fearful for the end of the word but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Deeply melancholy, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac . . . A book that I will long remember, and return to.”
— George R. R. Martin
“Absolutely extraordinary.” —Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
“Darkly lyrical. . . . A truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down." —The Seattle Times
“Tender and lovely. . . . Equal parts page-turner and poem.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Mesmerizing.” — People
“Mandel delivers a beautifully observed walk through her book’s 21st century world…. I kept putting the book down, looking around me, and thinking, ‘Everything is a miracle.’”—Matt Thompson, NPR
“My book of the year.”—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“Unmissable. . . . A literary page-turner, impeccably paced, which celebrates the world lost.” —Vulture
“Haunting and riveting.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“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
“Think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. . . . Magnetic.” —Kirkus (starred)
“Even if you think dystopian fiction is not your thing, I urge you to give this marvelous novel a try. . . . [An] emotional and thoughtful story.” —Deborah Harkness, author of The Book of Life
“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” —The New Yorker
“Audacious. . . . A book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid devastation.” —The Washington Post
“Soul-quaking. . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“A genuinely unsettling dystopian novel that also allows for moments of great tenderness. Emily St. John Mandel conjures indelible visuals, and her writing is pure elegance.” —Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
“Possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read.” —The Independent (London)
“A firework of a novel . . . full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.” —Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
“One of the best things I’ve read on the ability of art to endure in a good long while.” —Tobias Carroll, Electric Literature
“Will change the post-apocalyptic genre. . . . This isn’t a story about survival, it’s a story about living.” —Boston Herald
“A big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel. . . . Hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.” —Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
“Strange, poetic, thrilling, and grim all at once, Station Eleven is a prismatic tale about survival, unexpected coincidences, and the significance of art.” —Bustle, “Best Book of the Month”
“Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.” —Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist
About the Author
Emily St. John Mandel was born in British Columbia, Canada. She is the author of three previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—all of which were Indie Next picks. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 and Venice Noir. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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The story picks up next with Kirsten now in her early twenties, walking with The Traveling Symphony - a collection of musicians and actors who stage plays for the small remnant communities that dot the region of Michigan and Toronto. They visit a community that has mutated in a strange way as it has come under the control of a religious fanatic. She has a pair of comic books featuring "Dr. Eleven" on "Station Eleven," which has a storyline about a space station/world that has carried the remnant of humanity into a dark and watery reality.
Then, the story skips back to follow Arthur Leadro's life, his development as an actor, his courtship of Miranda, who spends her life drawing the Station Eleven comics, and the disappointments he creates for himself. Then, it is back to the present of the post-apocalypse as Kirsten and her group deal with the threat of the religious fanatics. And, then, back to follow the story of what happens to Jeevan. And then forward to the present and the fate of a friend of Arthur's. And then back to the past, and further information that sheds light on the characters.
Some might not like the way this story is structured, but I liked the story. What I got was the sense of the world that the author was creating. As a reader who was not confined to a single point of view, I got a sense of the effect and experience of both the collapse of civilization and human life thereafter. Further, the returns to the past and the banalities of the life we take for granted - celebrities, movies, dinner parties, airplane flights, and the rest - creates a sense of melancholy for the world that is lost. This sense informs the scenes of the museum of civilization at the Severn City Airport, where passports and inoperable cell phones are put on display for the edification of people who remember life when they worked and for the younger generation who has no idea of what they are.
The story worked for me. I was drawn along with curiosity to see what developed. The prose was lovely. The characters were nicely developed, particularly that of Arthur Leandro, who, in fact, never makes it into the post-apocalyptic world that is the supposedly what this story is about. The mood and tone of the story are generally somber, but it all makes for a nice change from the frantic cliches of the endless crop of zombie apocalypses.
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.