Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher’s Description: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Agent Annie says…
Station Eleven is a five out of five; if I could give it a higher rating I would. It truly is a masterpiece. I’ve read it twice and I wish there was a literature class that could discuss themes and social commentary and story structure and character building, etc. It is truly an amazing book.
The first time I read it, I read it so fast I didn’t really know how to describe it, so I sat with it for a couple of months. The second time I read it, I tried to pace myself and savor each of the characters and the developments in the story and think about how would I describe this book. It is a complex story about people in dire circumstances and the choices they are forced to make and how those choices affect others. The setting comes off post-apocalyptic or maybe even science-fiction, which isn’t really the point. Emily St. John Mandel uses a cataclysmic event to create an environment where her characters must react to their new world and define their relationships in new ways.
The story is about the characters, developed in such a way that you go back and forth from chapter to chapter, first-person narrative and from timeframe to timeframe because you see the people’s lives when everything was normal, like we know it today, and then you skip forward into people’s lives 20 years in the future after a horrific event has happened and people are put into extreme circumstances and it all kind of circles around how these people knew or interacted with, even for just a few moments, the other characters and what affect those interactions had.
At the end, the author folds you back into the storyline and catches you up on each of the individual characters, and how they relate to each other. They have become who they truly are and their lives are stripped down to that one most important way to be. I haven’t read any other book like it so I don’t know what to recommend if you like this book. I do have in my queue Emily St. John’s other books, but at the same time, I’m a little nervous that they won’t measure up. This is just such a fabulous book!