Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Release date: September 9, 2014
Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Knopf
Age group: Adult
Pages: 333
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

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. 

Station Eleven is one of those books I completely had missed out on despite the fact that it seems to be quite hyped up title within the community of readers. I think it was actually an Entertainment Weekly top reads of 2014 list that I found this title from, and once I actually started to do research on it, I realized quite a lot of people I follow on either Goodreads, Twitter or Youtube has both read it and loved it. And since I am always a fan of good recommendations, I decided to pick it up and give it a go.

Station Eleven spans brilliantly in time, providing the reader a contratiction between the pre-Georgia flu world and the world that unfolds after the flu has spread and killed most of the population. Whereas the world we known now is filled with fast cars, planes, technology and the ever present Internet, the world after the flu lacks technology and electricity and seems to be almost eerily quiet for most of the time. The locations span from Toronto to New York and from the roads and forests of Michigan to the beaches of Malaysia.

In addition to spanning in time, Station Eleven also spans among a group of characters. Everything starts when Arthur, a famous actor, dies of stage while performing King Lear. This event and the people present at the theater foreshadow the connections that will be made later on between the characters. Jeevan, a photographer turned EMT is present at the theater and tries to resuccitate Arthur without success. Kirsten is there too, then a young girl dreaming about a career in the limelight. Later on that night, the flu hits Toronto and the death of Arthur does not end up being the big news of the day - on the eve of the destruction of the world as they know it, the people do not really care about the death of someone famous.

As the novel develops, we get to know more about Arthur while he was still alive through flashbacks, mostly via the character of Clark, Arthur's friend and one of the survivors of the flu. In addition, we get to read about Kirsten as a young adult, traveling with the Traveling Symphony and performing Shakespeare in the new, post-flu world. The deeper we get into the novel, the more we start to notice connections between the characters and the events that have taken place.

The character development in this novel is executed very well, especially when it comes to Kirsten. We get a chance to know her as a young child through the eyes of Jeevan and the flashbacks detailing the performance both she and Arthur were involved in. But in addition to this, we get to know her as a young adult, as someone who has taken the leap from the innocence of childhood to something she never dreamed about; the world she lives in has forced her to make difficult decisions and sacrifices and she literally is a citizen of two worlds - the world before the flu and the world after the flu.

Station Eleven could be categorized as science fiction, but not in a way from example one would categorize Star Trek as science fiction. There are no spaceships here (except maybe in the Station Eleven graphic novel, authored by one of the characters of the novel) and in general, the dystopian/post-apocalyptic/science fiction elements of this novel are very subtle and toned down, yet at the same time very detailed. The collapse of the civilization as we know is is explained so lyrically and beautifully. In general, the way this novel was written took my breath away.

Station Eleven definitely isn't the quickest read out there despite the fact that I had a really hard time putting it down. The language is so detailed and the world so intricate and well-built that it did not really bother me that I had to take my time to get through this. I feel like this is one of those books that would be even better after a re-read, because then you would have time to really focus on some of the details as you would already know the so-called big picture.



  1. I'm glad you really enjoyed this one! I've been seeing it around a lot and it seems like something I'd really enjoy. One of my favorite booktubers raves about this book as well. Great review!
    Krystianna @ Downright Dystopian

  2. This is one of those novels that I didn't want to end. In my top three best books of the year, and possibly of the decade! I am begging people to read this beautiful book. Weeks later, and I am still thinking about it. Stunning. Breathtaking and truthful.


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