Review: Station Eleven

Posted 4 March, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Station Eleven
By: Emily St. John Mandel
Format/Source: Trade paperback; was a Christmas gift

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.

Oh man, there was so much buzz about this novel last year, it’s hard to have not known about this book. The premise of this novel sounded really interesting, very eerie, and I’ve been reading so much positive buzz about the book. My best friend gifted me a copy of the book last Christmas and it drifted up to the top of my to-read pile fairly quickly šŸ˜‰

Suffice to say, Station Eleven is a very atmospheric novel. It’s very creepy and realistic, the way the Georgian flu ran its course and led to this post-apocalyptic world that Kirsten lives in. The back-and-forth between the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic world was very effective in showing life before and after the event, and it was also effective how readers don’t know how exactly the Georgian flu spread until much later into the novel. Throughout the novel, you can feel the emptiness that the flu left the world in, the subtle hysteria it left in its wake. And yet it’s not like other dystopian novels I’ve read previously; there’s something about this novel that really focuses on the moment, if that makes any sense. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, there’s no overarching government that came out after the calamity. Survival is the focus, and yet it’s something more than that, it’s about finding a sense of purpose, a sense of something more than survival after the collapse of civilisation. While atmospheric, haunting, and lonely, it felt rather hopeful at the end, that there’s a possibility of rising up again.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting coming into this novel, but the flashbacks between the pre-calamity and post-apocalyptic world added layers of storytelling. The themes of memory and civilisation, of the connection with other people, and art, were all wonderful to read and to ponder about. I love how the comic Station Eleven weaved through events, both past and “present”; it’s just as eerie as the post-apocalyptic world and a reflection of all the themes and events that play out in this novel. I’d love to see an actual comic of it, actually, I’d totally read it šŸ™‚

All of the characters were interesting and it was fascinating how the main characters featured were connected to each other in some way. It was curious that Jeevan’s story came into the fore in the latter half of the novel and seemed separate to Kirsten, Arthur, etc. but nonetheless he has a role to play in the overall connections and the outcome of his survival differed from the others. I thought Arthur was an especially intriguing character, despite dying at the start of the novel/on the eve of the pandemic. The prophet in the post-apocalyptic world was very scary, very plausible, and added a dimension of danger in this world. I had a feeling that the identity of the prophet was someone we had encountered in the novel, but it was sad how the character became who he was.

Overall, I really enjoyed Station Eleven, there was a lot more to the novel that the premise indicated. Part of me was xD especially as Toronto was a big setting feature in this novel. There were times when the story lulled a little, and probably me becoming unwell at the time I was reading this novel probably affected my momentum reading it, but otherwise this book definitely deserved all of the praise it received. Highly recommended!

Rating: ★★★★☆

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4 Responses to “Review: Station Eleven”

  1. I loved this book so much! One of the things I loved about it was that it talked about people living decades after the collapse of civilization. Most apocalyptic books talk about immediately after and then the series ends with very little talk about the rebuilding. I loved the museum of civilization. It was so interesting to hear about all the things some generations would never even know about, like credit cards for instance. It was so thought provoking.

    • Agreed, or like civilization has already rebuilt and you don’t really know what happened in the immediate aftermath/that in between the apocalyptic event and the decades after. The museum of civilization was eerie, and yet yeah, that’s the sort of thing that people in later generations will be looking back on and thinking it’s some derelict artefact of bygones. Fascinating stuff to ponder on šŸ™‚

  2. As you said it, there was a lot of buzz (mostly good) about Station Eleven. I am not sure if I will read it, I’m afraid that I will be bored… Although the premise is very interesting. I love those ‘what if’ scenarios…

    • I think what I love the most about this book is that the author takes the “what if” situation and really brings the experience of living through it to the fore. There’s of course the aftermath and how society sort of reacts and comes together/apart/how social structures shift but otherwise it’s all about the experience of living in this new world, which was really intersting, pretty chilling.

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