Published by Knopf on September 9th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Survival Stories
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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.
“What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”
Confession: I went into this book not really expecting to like it. It’s very hyped and has gotten many raving reviews, and yet I didn’t think I would enjoy it. Why? Because this book can – I believe – be classified as literary fiction and for some reason, I still see myself as not being capable of grasping these kinds of novels. I have the preconceived notion that as someone who reads primarily YA, I cannot appreciate these types of books (which I realize is actually kind of offensive towards YA readers). I thought I would be bored and confused. Fortunately though, it turns out I was wrong. Station Eleven didn’t confuse me in the slightest and I really enjoyed it.
I have a hard time telling you what this novel is actually about, because ultimately, it’s a book about people. The story is told from multiple perspectives in the third person and skips between different timelines. We get snapshots from people’s lives that are seemingly unconnected but eventually run together creating a wonderfully interlinked story.
In the center of all this is the apocalypse. A flu pandemic has killed off 99.9% of the human population and the remaining few have to try to survive in a world that is completely altered from what they knew. The apocalypse is the focal point of the novel, yet isn’t at the same time. Station Eleven is unique in the way that it revolves around the apocalypse but isn’t actually about the apocalypse. It’s a novel about memories, human resilience and the struggle to remain hopeful in times of crisis. The apocalypse is merely a set-up, a way of asking a question: What would or should you, as an ordinary person, do in such a situation? How far can you go until you’re actions become unacceptable? What should you do when everyone you’ve ever known is dead? You have to decide for yourself what it means to be human.
Station Eleven’s perhaps greatest strength is how utterly uncontrived the story feels. There is something effortless in the way it is written; the novel isn’t attempting to be something it is not. It lacks any sort of melodrama and isn’t full of big philosophical statements that stifle the reader’s ability to comprehend what is going on.
The characters were interesting in the sense that they weren’t particularly likable and I wasn’t really attached to any of them. Yet they impressed by their sheer humanity, they seemed so real and normal like someone you could meet on the street. Which is, I’m guessing, exactly what Emily St. John Mandel intended.
My favorite part was probably the whole aspect of religion in the new world. I always love books that comment on religion in one way or another and I enjoyed seeing people’s motivations for joining a cult or even believing themselves to be prophets.
This book is also beautifully written. Quite simple, not overly flowery or descriptive, but poetic in its own way. And the way the author interwove all the different storylines so seamlessly shows how well-crafted this book really is.
If you, like me, have sworn off dystopians because you’re sick and tired of reading about the same recycled storyline, don’t worry: This book is nothing like any other dystopian novel I’ve read. In fact, despite the fact that it’s post-apocalyptic, it doesn’t even feel like a dystopian.
If however, you are searching for an action-packed, plot-driven and edge-of-your-seat novel, this certainly isn’t it. It’s very quiet and there isn’t that much that actually happens, but I still found myself to be completely engrossed.
This book might not have blown me away like it did so many others, but I still really liked it. There is a lot to be appreciated and I think it’s the kind of novel that will stay with me for a long time.
A beautifully written and thought-provoking read. Highly recommended!