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Station Eleven Paperback – June 2, 2015
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A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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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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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.
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.