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Station Eleven Paperback – June 2, 2015
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“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
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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.
Station Eleven starts like any post-apocalyptic book, with the obligatory deadly flu that empties the earth. So far so good. But no, it keeps jumping back to the pre-flu world, following this insipid and unsufferable movie star and his interminable collection of wives (soon to be ex wives) and mistresses (soon to be wives, soon to be ex wives). At least gossip magazines make it juicy enough to keep us entertained. And if gossip was what I wanted to read, I would have bought the gossip magazines. There's also some very sparse parts set several years after the end of the world as we know it, with a group of travelling actors and musicians performing for the struggling human settlements along the road, which could also be interesting if it wasn't, again, mindless gossip about the performers, who sleeps with who, who likes who, the costume choices, where can we find a jar of rosin, etc. You'd think a post apocalyptic world would offer more interesting subject matters. The only tenuously secondary story that has something interesting to offer follows a group of survivors stranded at an airport, and a self proclaimed prophet with nefarious intents. But it all probably takes less than 10 pages in total.
Top international reviews
Station Eleven isn't your usual apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novel: the focus isn't the pandemic itself. The story isn't a linear one and alternates, without any obvious logic at first, between moments before the pandemic, during the pandemic or after it. The reader realises quite quickly that the focus actually is the characters and the consequences of the pandemic on them. There's no epic tale of survival, but tales of self-discovery and how to find your place in this world.
I have really loved the style: it's beautiful written, sometimes very striking, and Emily St John Mandel varies her narrative choices. Some readers may dislike the absence of linearity: clearly, it's not Flood by Baxter, and it can be frustrating to lose the storyline of one character without knowing if St John Mandel will go back to him or her. But this absence of linearity is actually what makes the beauty of the story: the characters' fate and their choices are examined under an unexpected angle. In a linear story, you wouldn't have felt a single shred of pity for some of them, but with this storytelling choice, they suddenly appear in a completely different light.
The story doesn't really bring anything new to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic genre, but it is gripping and sometimes very touching.
It is a remarkably beautiful and emotional novel that left me speechless for a few minutes after having finished it.
We have the years after the singular event that causes the post-apocalyptic dystopia that we read of, but we also have before then and not only the events that led up to the massive flu pandemic, Georgia Flu here, but people who are in one way or another circling the actor, Arthur Leander. As we read this we see how important this character is, although he spectacularly dies on stage near the beginning of this, whilst playing King Lear.
Of course, it is unlikely that a pandemic would kill so many people throughout the world in so quick a period, and there is missing some of the really hard-hitting pieces about life immediately after such an event, although rape and murder do come up in the story. This tale concentrates on other things, which makes it so interesting and giving us food for thought that is usually missed.
We meet throughout this book then characters who are related to Leander, through marriage, and even his child, as well as friends of his, and those who for one reason or another have come into contact with him. This may not seem that important at the beginning of this, but it is as you read further into the tale.
By flicking between the past and the present so Emily St John Mandel keeps us intently reading, as we see how all the different pieces come together. We read of Kirsten here then who is travelling with the Symphony, a company that puts on musical events and Shakespearean plays, and as we see, when they eventually reach a town on their usual circuit to pick up a couple of their members, so things have changed, with the so-called Prophet in charge, and his cult. Kirsten was a child actor, who was there when Leander died, and also who was given a couple of comics by him, which were created by his first wife. This is only one link we see between the past and present.
This makes us think of the importance of art and culture on our lives, as well as the loss of those we know, and nostalgia for a past that no longer exists. Therefore memory plays a part here, and how civilisation plays an important part of our lives. By the latter years mentioned here, so life has sort of fallen into a routine, where some control and a touch of normality has started to seep into the everyday. This reminds us that although after some cataclysmic event life may change, eventually it will all fall back into a certain normality, and we can see this throughout history, with the plague, and other epidemics. Whilst people from before such an event are alive, so things can be passed onto newer generations, to keep certain practices and thoughts and ideals alive. Along with this we are also reminded that it is not in living that people gain immortality, but in what we do, and what we are remembered for – although nowadays for some people they think that just posting endless selfies is a fulfilling life. Therefore if you are looking for a basic post-apocalyptic novel you will not find it here. However, if you are looking for something a bit more thoughtful and intelligent, as well as literary, then here you have something that you should enjoy.
This novel is 333 pages long, split into 53 chapters. Short chapter usually help a book to read quickly by giving it pace so that's a good start.
The story starts with a death on stage then quickly becomes more menacing as a killer flu virus spreads rapidly around the world. Lots of people with interconnecting stories are introduced and there plenty of ominous warnings about the imminent end of the world as we know it. Having established the scenario the pace slows a bit as the characters come in. It picks up again once the links start to be established and I was hooked.
It's a complex story with plenty of drama. The narrative focuses on a few people who are still alive twenty years on but there are plenty of references back in time to explain what has happened since the virus first struck.
There are loads of unanswered questions which gives the story a genuine feeling.
Characters are allowed to develop but it is clear from the beginning that characterisation comes a second place to the descriptions of the post apocalyptic world in which they live.
After the initial panic, the book becomes very reflective and this is when it is at its best. Looking back at the futility of civilisation and the strength of humanity to survive.
Towards the end I found the plot stretched the boundaries, that it had successfully established, too far and I wasn't convinced that the ending matched the rest of the novel. This was always going to be a tough story to conclude and the author did a good job.
That’s where the Travelling Symphony and Shakespeare come in, after the world has ended. I don’t know what I expected to find at the end of the world. But it was heart-warming to find humanity not just surviving, but trying to live as best as they can.
People unavoidably go back to the basics, now that the miracles of technology are behind them. But they also go forward in the sense that they return back to their inner strength, trying to overcome animal instincts, they survive on their own means, and they appreciate what was best about the world – a world we spend too much time taking for granted. It’s an eye-opening insight into what our current life really is: a collective miracle. Without 99% of us, everything would come to a halt, and everything we’ve achieved so far is a wonder. “The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?” And the answer is also provided: “Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”
“What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.” The non-linear narrative that plays with memories adds to the plot and character development with slow but gradual character build-up, where the reader is allowed to draw their own conclusions following Mandel’s winks.
This book tells big truths via the small things. It talks about what it means to be human, and how often we forget that it’s a decision each of us has to make every day. Every major catastrophe finds its prophet after all. It’s a book beautifully written with strong imagery, that reads like it’s been dipped in poetry inspired by the life that ‘was’ – much like what is left behind.
OST: A Midsummer' Night's Dream, Overture - Mendelssohn
It's not your traditional post-apocalyptic book, moving at quite a slow pace and focussing on building a picture of the world the characters live in as much as (or more than) the plot. The storyline is not delivered in linear time, occasionally casting back to pre-apocalyptic times which are used to explore flashes of the main characters' history.
Obviously, the characters had clearly changed due the events in between although - at times frustratingly - it is left to the reader's imagination to think about what happened in that time and why / how it affected them. This occasionally (and intentionally) results in the reader being left to pull together quite a few strands of story from different timelines and fill gaps. This can often give the feeling the book isn't really going anywhere and, in the case of the final chapters, creates a bit of an anticlimax.
The narrative of this book is not particularly extreme - most of story and characters are fairly believable - and this I think encourages the reader to reflect a little more...on things like "what would I save for the museum of civilisation?"!
Overall, I would recommend reading this book but be prepared to offer it a little patience.
The novel opens with a tabloid-famous actor, Arthur Leander, collapsing on the stage of Elgin Theatre, Toronto, in the midst of playing the titular role in “King Lear”, and a paparazzi-turned-entertainment journalist-turned-paramedic, Jeevan Chaudhury, leaping on stage to his rescue. Meanwhile, Kirsten Raymonde, a child actor weeps in the wings from the trauma. Fast forward to twenty years later and the narrative turns to a Travelling Symphony who moves through the ravaged land in caravans converted from a convoy of pickup trucks to perform Shakespeare and various classical orchestral pieces in makeshift towns across a decimated America, while braving feral animals and humans alike on their perilous journey.
Disjointed as it sounds, Emily St John Mandel’s non-linear narrative works rather well, and though she employs quite a few conventional techniques, she is so sure-handed that they all cohere together in a unique fashion and in perfect harmony. She injects enough realism into a presumably dystopian story to give her readers a good grip on the familiar surroundings of modern-day North America, and then she displaces all that in the very next instance when the pandemic strikes.
Mandel’s narrative is primarily character-driven. So one of the techniques that work surprisingly well is how she slyly takes a particular character out of the narrative at critical junctures once she has the reader fixated on him/her, and turns instead her attention to yet another character, so that when the first of these characters returns, you are raring to read about his/her past or future with bated breath. All these characters connect ultimately in unexpected ways (and at different parts of the jagged timeline of the narrative), and through objects as innocuous as a glass paperweight and a vanity comic book series, “Dr Eleven”, drawn and written by one of the key characters. What is spectacular is how fully-realised and engaging Mandel’s ensemble cast is. Even the peripheral characters cause the reader to feel strongly for them; like the clinically depressed girl among the stranded passengers in Severn International Airport, who walks off into the cold when she cannot find the medicine she needs, and is never mentioned again.
It to the end, and see if it improved.
Unfortunately, it really didn’t. Not for me anyway. Life is too short to read to the end of a book you don’t enjoy. Pandemic or no pandemic.
I love a good dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel. It offers the opportunity to ask 'what if?' and to think about how different things might be. Ideally, I like my dystopian novels to be set not too far into the future; just enough to make the mental jump from life as we know it to life as it might be, and Station Eleven fits the bill.
If you are the type of reader who likes a linear plot that goes from A to B without too much dilly-dallying along the way, then maybe you should skip this. It hops back and forth in time and place, offering glimpses into an array of people, places and times, leaving you to try to work out how they 'might' be connected. If you're also the type of person who can't rest until all the loose ends are tied and all the mysteries solved, I'd also say it's not for you. A lot of questions remain unanswered.
I struggled with the whole concept of Station Eleven and didn't always see how it fitted into the story. Is the airport 'museum' a Station Eleven of type? And why does it matter that the Prophet has a white dog but has never directly been involved with the artist who drew Station Eleven? How does a plane full of people manage to contain nobody with the virus? Do the musicians who join the band of travelling minstrels already know how to play their instruments or do they get taught? All in all, I don't think it matters at all that we don't get all the answers. Station Eleven is a journey, not a destination.
I'm optimistic that Covid 19 won't wipe out 99% of the earth's inhabitants. There wouldn't be a lot of point in reviewing this book if I didn't have that kind of confidence. But if it did, I'm not sure that putting on Shakespeare's plays would be my priority.
The story starts at the end, the end of the world as we know it (I can't stop singing that now) Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear. Shortly after his death we discover that a deadly version of swine flu is sweaping the world and is about to take out 99.99% of the earth's inhabitants.
The storyline then jumps forward 15 years to a very different world. There is no electricity, no Internet, cars, medicines etc etc. What happens next it told from the view point of Kristen, a child actress who saw Arthur die on stage before the epidemic took hold. She has joined a group who call themselves the travelling symphony. They travel from small town to small town performing Shakespeare and music for the townsfolk. Trying to make their lives mean something because survival is not sufficient (a star trek quote that is written on one of their caravans)
I found the book to be less about the apocalypse and more about human connections and how our actions effects others. It becomes apparent that although dead, Arthur is still centre to the story as we see his connections among some of the survivors.
I have only given 4 stars as I think some of the things that happened in the aftermath are a little unbelievable, like very few books for example. Where did all the libraries go to? Lack of guns and amo is another example. As the story is based in America I found that quite surprising as we know a lot of Amercian people keep guns in their homes. Most homes we are told have been raided, but in the space of 15 years with a very small percent of the population left? Other than suspending a little belief though its very well written, with some really interesting characters.
We start the book with Arthur as he collapses on the stage whilst performing King Lear and tragically, despite the efforts of a newly trained paramedic, he dies behind the curtain, This sets the scene for the tragic events that follow:
The Georgia Flu strikes and within days 99% of the population is dead and the world that we know no longer exists. No technology, no home comforts, nothing left apart from a handful of survivors that have to do everything within their power to survive. The author sets us straight into a vivid and tense landscape that made the hairs on my neck stand on end.
This book was beautifully written and linked together both the past and the present in an effortless way. The characters all had a link of some sort to Arthur and their paths eventually meet due to the passing on of a comic book written by first ex-wife, Miranda. Each of the characters we meet are flawed and all are carrying their demons either from the world before or from the current world that they have to adjust to.
This book really made me think that the world that we live in is truly a fragile place and no one knows for certain what the future may hold. How would any of us cope if we lost everyone and everything within a matter of days? The towns go into meltdown and once the initial panic subsides we are left with a world of nothingness and just a battle for survival.</p>
Kristen was a young girl when the flu struck and ended up joining a travelling group of musicians and actors calling themselves 'The Travelling Symphony' Her life is spent on the road moving from settlement to settlement, never daring to stay in one place for too long. Their travels end up taking them on the path to the museum of civilisation which has been set up in an old disused airport on Severn City. It's a journey fraught with danger and is the ultimate battle for survival.
I would like to use a quote from the book to finish my post. "Hell is the absence of the people you long for." This really struck a chord with me. If the world ended and we lost everything it would be the people we loved that would be missed the most.
I have to say that I really felt afraid for the characters in a way that I haven't with the gun-toting american style zombe-action thrillers - even though I love those - these characters are vulnerable and altruistic.
I do have one question for the author though: What happened to Laura? (would really like to understand that loose thread).
It is truly incredible the way this book is made up of so many moving parts that differ in time and place and yet are all integral pieces of the masterpiece this is. The initial plot revolves around the death of an actor named Arthur Leander: his final performance of King Lear on stage in NYC, his relationships including friendships and several failed marriages, and a rescue attempt by a former paparazzo turning EMT. The night Arthur dies is when the Georgian Flu takes over the news in America, and within one month the modern era of life as the world knows it has given way to The Collapse. The first year is traumatic and violent and experienced on the road by most survivors, eventually outposts and towns are formed and populated. Twenty years after the Collapse, the traveling Symphony performs classical music and Shakespeare throughout the Midwest.
I loved the underlying theme of relationship discord, so much pithy substance there. And the notion of occupational sleepwalking, and being woken up by a global pandemic. And coincidence, how we who are not infected can so much ascribe our being alive to dumb luck. I didn't understand the three different heart insertions, in my Kindle edition it seemed random.
What's interesting with 'Station Eleven' is Mandel's approach to shifting timelines throughout the story. Starting in the present, then later jumping ahead to a depiction of the future, twenty years on, then jumping back to years before the spread of a deadly virus which nearly wipes out humanity.
'Station Eleven' is not a typical 'dystopian/apocolypse' story. There are chapters that sometimes express the horror and clearly demonstrate Mandel's talent and ability to reveal the true horror within such a tale, but instead she changes the setting enough to not depress, but reveal real magic in her writing through connections between characters and objects
This book is a rare and important piece of work. It kept reminding me of the film 'Magnolia' with the common grounding of a horrific virus that swiftly causes genocide towards the Earth's population but those who do survive manage to convey hope, strength and determination as well as chance to survive. It is well worth reading if you're interested in reading a challenging and yet highly interesting book about fame and coincidence as well as what a world changed by a deadly virus could possibly be like. Highly recommended and extremely cool.