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Station Eleven Paperback – June 2, 2015
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. 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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I don't know, I don't like to criticize any works of art, as I always consider them a personal expression of creativity. I simply expected more plot, and less poetry.
Doctor Eleven has fled the destruction of Earth to take up residence on Station Eleven, a space station the size of a small planet that is nearly covered by water. (He has taken his name from that of the station.) There, he struggles against the dark forces of the Undersea, who have murdered his mentor and the station’s former chief, Lonagan.
That was no plot synthesis. It’s the prophetic storyline of a series of graphic novels created over several years by Miranda Carroll, one of the central characters in the intricate web of events St. John Mandel relates in her engrossing novel. Though the comic books appear to be incidental early in the story, they crop up again and again along the way and will prove to be the thread that ties together the fates of the novel’s characters.
Station Eleven is, at heart, the story of an A-list Hollywood film star named Arthur Leander and several of the people whose lives cross with him before the Collapse. Leander, playing the part of King Lear in a stage production in Toronto, suffers a heart attack and collapses on-stage during Act IV. A paramedic-in-training named Jeevan Chaudhary instantly leaps onto the stage from the audience but is unable to save him. The tragedy is witnessed by Kirsten Raymonde, one of three eight-year-old girls who have been playing small, silent roles in the production. Meanwhile, a virulent mutation of influenza, called the Georgian Flu, has been killing off the population of Georgia and Russia and is rapidly fanning out across the world in airplanes filled with refugees from the pandemic. Arthur has died just days before the disease reaches North America.
St. John Mandel’s story unfolds in a rapid succession of short scenes in the post-apocalyptic world along the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan 15 and 20 years after the collapse. “Collapse” is the popular term for the apocalypse brought on by the pandemic. There are frequent flashbacks into the lives of the central characters: Arthur Leander; Miranda Carroll, Arthur’s first wife; Elizabeth Colton, his second wife, and their son Tyler; Clark Thompson, Arthur’s British friend from acting classes in Toronto decades earlier; Kirsten, whose life St. John Mandel chronicles in detail throughout the years after the Collapse; and Jeevan Chaudhary. Through the twists and turns of the plot, the lives of these characters frequently intersect. One of them dies of the Georgian Flu. We visit the others both in flashbacks to their pre-pandemic lives and many years after the collapse.
In the post-apocalyptic world of this wonderful novel, a National Book Award Finalist, there are no functioning cities. Survivors have scattered over the countryside, some of them coming together in communities of at most a couple of hundred people. The most populous community is one that occupies the airport at a fictional Michigan town, Severn City, near the shore of Lake Michigan. There, someone has set up a Museum of Civilization in the Skymiles Lounge, displaying mobile phones, electronic games, credit cards, and other artifacts of lives long gone.
This is a world fraught with danger. In the years immediately following the collapse, many survivors walk for hundreds of miles in search of food and other resources. Distrust leads many to kill anyone who approaches them. Meanwhile, feral humans rove the earth, preying on travelers unable to defend themselves. Soon, madness takes hold of many, and would-be prophets begin to collect followers, imposing their will through force on anyone they encounter.
“Civilization in Year Twenty is an archipelago of small towns. These towns had fought off ferals, buried their neighbors, lived and died and suffered together in the blood-drenched years just after the collapse, survived against unspeakable odds and then only by holding together into the calm, and these places didn’t go out of their way to welcome strangers.”
In this bleak environment, the Traveling Symphony provides a desperately needed break from the tedium and danger of survival, wandering from town to town in old pickup trucks drawn by horses. The lead truck displays the Symphony’s motto: “Because survival is insufficient.” A merger between a small troupe of actors and the survivors of a symphony orchestra, the “Symphony performed music—classical, jazz, orchestral arrangements of pre-collapse pop songs—and Shakespeare.” Kirsten, the eight-year-old girl who witnessed Arthur Leander’s death, has joined the Symphony as an actor. “[T]his collection of petty jealousies, neuroses, undiagnosed PTSD cases, and simmering resentments lived together, traveled together, rehearsed together, performed together, 365 days of the year, permanent company, permanent tour.”
St. John Mandel writes, “What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot . . . Lake Michigan shining a half mile away. Kirsten as Titania, a crown of flowers on her close-cropped hair . . .”
As Kirsten observes in an interview in Year 15 with the first newspaper to appear in the region (a hand-printed monthly) , “Some places, you pass through once and never return, because you can tell something’s very wrong. Everyone’s afraid, or it seems like some people have enough to eat and other people are starving, or you see pregnant eleven-year-olds and you know the place is either lawless or in the grip of something, a cult of some kind. There are towns that are perfectly reasonable, logical systems of governance and such, and then you pass through two years later and they’ve slid into disarray.”
But this is not a story without hope. In the final scenes of the novel, electric streetlights are shining brightly in a town distant from the Symphony’s last stop at the Museum of Civilization. A livable world may yet come to life.
Station Eleven is science fiction at its best, a powerful depiction of a dystopian future.
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.