Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel

Hardcover, 2014

Call number

SPEC FICT MAN

Publication

Knopf (2014), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages

Description

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, 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.… (more)

Media reviews

Station Eleven is not so much about apocalypse as about memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning; the effort of art to deepen our fleeting impressions of the world and bolster our solitude. Mandel evokes the weary feeling of life slipping away, for Arthur as an individual and then writ large upon the entire world.
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Survival may indeed be insufficient, but does it follow that our love of art can save us? If “Station Eleven” reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.
Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.

Library's review

This book resides in the "speculative fiction" section of our community library. I found it to be within the "dystopian", or at least, post-apocaplyptic, wing of that genre, but with a different angle than I've normally seen. St. John Mandel focuses a great deal on what was happening in the lives of her characters before the catastrophe (in this case, a world wide plague/flu that kills within days of exposure). She doesn't describe a totally dehumanized dystopian world, there are some signs of goodness, as in the travelling symphony/Shakespearean theater troup, but it does less "speculation"—what will/could the post-disaster world look like; how will we learn from past mistakes and problems, or not; what could a different/better world look like?—and instead focuses on the connections between the past lives of the characters and their post-disaster predicaments and adjustments. The characters are interesting, and the way St. John Mandel gradually reveals past narratives and character intersections is well done. Still, the focus is on the past, not the future, except for the last paragraph, which has one of the characters musing about the possibility of: "Perhaps vessels are setting out even now, traveling toward or away from him, steered by sailors armed with maps and knowledge of the stars, driven by need or perhaps simply by curiosity… He likes the thought of ships moving over the water, toward another world just out of sight."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Station Eleven opens with a notable actor’s death during a performance of King Lear, the same night that a flu pandemic begins to destroy civilization as we know it. And then suddenly it was 20 years later, in a post-apocalyptic world both preposterous and probable. There are no governments, no national boundaries. The internet and electronics no longer exist -- in fact, electricity no longer exists. News travels primarily by word of mouth; rumors and misinformation abound. There are many migrants, including 28-year-old Kirsten, a member of the Traveling Symphony performing music and Shakespeare in towns along their route. Kirsten repressed memories of the first year after the pandemic, but has a few artifacts from that time including two comic books about a place no one else has ever heard of, called Station Eleven.

The novel moves seamlessly between the post-apocalyptic period and a time 20-30 years before the pandemic, when the actor Arthur Leander got his start. The reader is introduced to key figures in Arthur’s life, only a few of whom survive the pandemic, and the origins and the journey of the comic books are also gradually revealed. The comic books connect the two time periods, with eerie parallels to post-pandemic events. The timelines converge as the Traveling Symphony approaches its destination, the Museum of Civilization housed in a disused airport, and we learn more about the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

I was fascinated by this story from the beginning. The pandemic’s impact on society, and the ensuing fear and chaos, felt very realistic. It was also easy to imagine how the human spirit would prevail despite such circumstances. I also approached my reading with a greater than usual attention to detail, looking for meaning and connections between “before” and “after,” a bit like trying to solve a puzzle. The book took over my consciousness for a few days, making me think about implications of day-to-day events in new ways. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel certainly lived up to it’s hype. Like so many before me, I was thoroughly engrossed by this story and was actually sad when it was over. I won’t go into plot details here as so much has been written about this book but I was taken with it’s depth, suspense and beauty. The author has elevated the apocalyptic genre and this book deserves a place on my shelves right beside Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The story was epic as it jumped back in forth in time, from just before the outbreak of the epidemic to what was left in it’s wake, twenty years later. The various plot threads are woven together seamlessly to create a visual, atmospheric story. The mixing of Shakespearean theatre and a post-apocalyptic world was sheer genius. As I closed the book I had to also close my eyes in appreciation of a story that both despairs and celebrates mankind but left the reader with a sense of hope.

Station Eleven is a book that deserves it’s accolades and is a book that I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member bragan
An actor dies of a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. One week later, most of the rest of humanity is also dead, due to a sudden, astonishingly virulent global flu pandemic. Twenty years later, a child actor the man was once kind to roams the Michigan countryside with a traveling troupe of performers, bringing music and Shakespeare to the scattered settlements of survivors.

The structure of this book is fascinating, the story moving back and forth between the time of the catastrophe, the time after, and the time before, weaving together its characters' stories in intricately connected ways. It's a structure that seems like it should be kind of annoying, one that is constantly dropping a narrative thread just as interesting things are starting to happen in order to jump back to characters we might almost have forgotten about. And yet, it works beautifully.

I've read approximately a zillion post-apocalyptic stories by now, but somehow this one manages to make the whole idea feel fresh and sharp and incredibly meaningful. There are moments here of almost unbearable poignancy, moments where I found myself deeply missing a world that still exists all around me, something, I think, that's all the more effective because it's invoked with such a deft, light touch.

This book's gotten a lot of hype, but in my opinion all of it is entirely deserved. It's just so good. So good. It's even left me feeling one of those "book hangovers," where I find myself reluctant to move on to anything else until it's done settling down into my head, and that's an experience I haven't had in a while.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
"'The Thing about the new world,' the tuba had said once, 'is that it's just so horrifically short on elegance.'"

I really loved this book, and I think the thing about it is that it is a story that is so well told that you just keep turning the pages to see what happens next. It pulls you in. Although it is a dystopian, I think that classification could be holding it back because a lot of people are just so tired of dystopian, right? This is about life after a pandemic flu, and what makes it work is how well the author has woven the different story lines together to make a seamless whole. There really is no main character, but there is a character that is the nucleus of the story - Arthur Leander, an actor. We are introduced to him right away and then slowly we see how the rest of the characters are connected to him in some way. This story goes both forwards and backwards in time and focuses on different characters as the story unfolds. This is just so well done, and I liked that the characters are different ages and at different points in their lives when the pandemic Georgia flu hits and changes everything, completely eradicating life as they know it. Survival requires rethinking everything, and the different approaches make for an interesting story - my favorite is probably the Traveling Symphony made up of musicians and actors who have adopted the Star Trek motto "Because survival is insufficient".… (more)
LibraryThing member EBT1002
"Hell is the absence of the people you long for."

After a pandemic of "Georgia Flu" expeditiously wipes out more than 99% of the human population on Earth, those who survive go through, collectively and individually, somewhat predictable stages of grief and transition and turn to somewhat predictable means of survival. But so little about this novel is predictable. Twenty years after "the end of the world" (cue REM song here), a tight "Symphony" of musicians and actors travel from collective to collective (towns, loosely speaking), performing Shakespeare and then moving on. Among them is Kirsten. Eight years old when the pandemic occurred, she remembers nothing of the first year although she knows that she somehow walked from Toronto to Ohio with her brother. He died of an infected foot, just one example of how different things are without modern medicine, electricity, communication, travel.... In the "old world," antibiotics would have rendered a stepped-on nail relatively harmless. Anyway, the Symphony is making their way south along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, heading for a small airport where they hear that a significant community has developed, and where a Museum of Civilization can be viewed. Then a few members of the Symphony disappear while on scout. Later, Kirsten and her buddy August become separated from the Symphony and must try to continue toward the airport, hoping to be reunited. There is so much more but trying to briefly summarize this plot is impossible.

The novel moves around in time and place and the characters' stories develop at a pleasant pace. The connections among the characters emerge with a calm, almost wholesome sense of revelation. The reader is not so much surprised as validated. Paradoxically, this calm validation occurs in the context of wonderful tension and suspense. In the third quarter of the book, I found myself in that magical zone in which the mantra "just one more chapter" keeps me up far too late. And I couldn't wait to get back to it the next morning.

Emily St. John Mandel's work lost a half-star in the end because of, well, the end. It's nice enough and I understand that ending this creative and intricate novel must have presented a particular challenge. I just wanted to be ever so slightly more satisfied as I closed the book after reading the last page. It's a minor quibble I recommend the novel with enthusiasm and without reservation.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Well, this was a surprise. I hadn't expected much from Station Eleven since I'm not a big fan of dystopian novels and I'd already read another book by Emily St. John Mandel and had thought that, while it was written well enough, it was not particularly good. I didn't expect to ever read another book by the author as there really are a lot of books out there. But it was listed for The Morning News Tournament of Books and a few people here liked it a lot, so I started the first chapter and I was hooked.

Hooked in the housework-undone, bills-unpaid, personal hygiene-ignored kind of way.

Station Eleven centers itself around Arthur Leander, an aging actor who has a heart attack on stage while playing King Lear. His collapse coincides with the arrival of a terrible pandemic that leaves very few people alive and those who survive are largely those who managed to isolate themselves while the virus speeds through the world. Afterwards, after those first few chaotic years, the area in which the book is set calms down, although the small communities that form are wary of strangers. The Symphony is a traveling group of actors and musicians who perform classical music and Shakespeare to a world that is gradually forgetting things like the internet and air conditioning.

What makes Station Eleven so compelling is that Mandel is less concerned with the details how people survived physically than with what that survival, coupled with their memories of how the world used to be, had done to them psychologically. What they now value is more interesting to her than the logistics of day-to-day survival (although there is some of that as well). I'm unwilling to give anything away about this book, but I did find it utterly compelling.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
I've seen this on several of your "best of 2014" lists, and I was not disappointed. Station Eleven pulled me in from the beginning. It has the typical plot devices of a good post-apocalyptic book, leaving readers to wonder how the drastic changes to the world - in this case, a severe flu outbreak - are going to impact civilization. Not surprisingly, different people approach the challenges differently. A group of musicians and Shakespearean actors form a traveling group that performs symphonies and plays. The slogan on their lead caravan explains why: because survival is insufficient. However, life is difficult in this post-apocalyptic world. Violence and the lack of technological advances challenge the survivors. As these challenges play out, we gradually learn how the survivors are connected through events and relationships from before the outbreak. In this way, Station Eleven integrates elements of a mystery, with its gradual reveal.

But as much as readers may try to classify Station Eleven into a genre, I found that the book resisted that categorization. For me, it became simply a story about how lives unfold in the face of challenges and about the motivations that drive us forward. Whether in the world before the outbreak or in the post-apocalyptic world, Mandel's observation holds: "First we only want to be seen, but once we're seen, that's not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered." The ways in which the characters attempt to be remembered differentiates them and helped me understand them deeply, despite the number of characters portrayed. Don't let the post-apocalyptic label stop you from giving this book a try.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Absorbing fantasy depicts plausible postapocalyptic vision.

Extended review:

Calling Station Eleven a fantasy doesn't mean that it has any magical or fantastic elements. It's a fantasy in the sense that an alternate history is a fantasy, a world invented by the author. The world of the novel doesn't exist, except in terms of potential. But it could conceivably happen; in the light of recent international events, it doesn't seem so far-fetched at all.

The jumping-off point for this novel is a deadly contagion that spreads like wildfire. It could have been an alien invasion, a nuclear war, a climatic meltdown, or any of a number of other global cataclysms that have wiped out the majority of the population in countless novels, movies, and comic books. The focus is on what happens afterward; and yet the roots in the past run deep. Somehow, to me, this author's vision of what's left of the world does not feel cliched.

Perhaps that is owing, at least in part, to the strong themes prevalent throughout, among them adaptation and survival, the bonds of community, the realm of the imagination, and the redemptive power of art. In the way of novels that seem to be set elsewhere (in a fantasy world, in a space colony, in an animal society) but in fact deal with issues of our own time and place, Station Eleven has much to say about our dependence on the infrastructure, about how things are run and by whom, and about what's really important. As the scattered survivors learn to cope and begin to rebuild, the choices they make about how to construct their new societies offer stark contrasts in how various value systems play out as blueprints for life. A persistent belief, for example, that "everything happens for a reason" leads to a strikingly different social order from one that is based on the integration of life and art.

The story's multilevel structure involves numerous characters whose lives somehow bear on one another's even though they may never actually meet or meet only incidentally. The strands are interwoven not only across the story's present but also between the present and the pre-catastrophe past. For this reason, the order of presentation is critical to the unfolding of the plot. And order of presentation is one of the novel's great strengths. Deciding how much of various threads to reveal, and when, in relation to the others, must have been a daunting undertaking for the author, and in my opinion she achieved it beautifully. I have seen authors of much less ambitious projects struggle with this aspect of storytelling and accomplish it far less capably. The disclosure of certain characters' backstories and the handling of the story within a story are especially artfully done.

Station Eleven is not without flaws, or at least not without some disappointments for me. The ending seemed very abrupt. After following so many individual histories, I wanted the payoff of seeing certain characters meet up who never did. That's a more realistic conclusion, no doubt, than what I expected, but I did feel a bit let down, hoping for a tidy wrap more than I wanted realism at that point. Still, I'd call this a really good novel, one that set and met a formidable challenge. I will definitely seek out other titles by this author.

(Kindle edition)
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Yahoo, an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel, and no zombies. Okay, that is probably a bit unfair. The Road by Cormac McCarthy also has no zombies in it. The lack of zombies is not the focus of this review, just a refreshing observation I wanted to make. I love Emily St. John Mandel’s earlier novels, Last Night in Montreal and The Singer’s Gun. Both touched on dark topics – the first on abduction and the second delving into the psyche of criminal of the minds of criminal fugitives – and both had great characterization with well-drawn, sophisticated plot development. Station Eleven was a bit of a departure and a bit of struggle for me to adjust to. I finally got into the rhythm of the character/time shifts and the overall flow of the story by the half way mark and that is when it all started to click for me. Unfortunately, this one ended up having a bit of a lackluster effect on me. St. John Mandel continues to exhibit finesse for delving into and exposing the haunted psyche of her characters. She also continues to impress me as a gifted author who I believe will continue to draw readers in with her stories but this one had more the feel of a tale told - a yarn spun with a more muted realism to it. I don't know if it is the story itself or the narration by Kirsten Potter, but I came away after reading this one with an overall sense of calmness.... not something one usually expects to experience when reading an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel.

Overall, I understand the attraction that this novel has received and I hope first time readers of St John Mandel's works will now read her earlier stories….. Which reminds me, I really must get around to reading The Lola Quartet. ;-)… (more)
LibraryThing member _Zoe_
This book has been getting a lot of buzz lately: it's currently #2 on LT's "Hot This Month" list, it was a popular choice for the End of the World category in the 2015 Category Challenge, and its high rating of 4.2 suggests that it's actually good.

I'll be the first to admit that I was swayed by the buzz and didn't do enough research into the book itself; the post-apocalyptic setting was enough to win me over. The book is set in the immediate and not-so-immediate aftermath of a devastating flu epidemic that kills more than 99% of the world's population very quickly, which sounded like an interesting premise to me.

And the book got off to a very strong start, with a compelling account of a Toronto paramedic-in-training and his experiences on the day the flu broke out. Unfortunately, after that first chapter, we didn't really meet that character again for more than 100 pages. Instead, much of the book focuses on the life of a Hollywood actor and his wives in the years before the pandemic—a topic that holds no intrinsic interest for me.

This may be a post-apocalyptic novel, but it's a literary novel first and foremost. The writing is excellent, and the whole edifice is carefully constructed. We can trace the journey of a paperweight from character to character through interconnected narratives in a non-linear chronology. There's plenty of reflection about life and the world, some of it quite powerful. I can understand why so many people have rated this book so highly.

At the same time, it's not really my type of book. There's a bit too much emphasis on introspection, on the mundane lives of not-particularly-likeable characters, on the clever linking together of disparate elements. It felt more like a book to be admired than a book to be enjoyed.

The prominent theme of reflection on a lost world also didn't entirely work for me because it wasn't quite believable that so much was lost, or at least that it was lost in the way portrayed here. There was no damage to infrastructure, just huge numbers of people dropping dead very quickly from an extremely contagious disease. Yet for some reason television news continued for five days (because obviously people would still go into work for that when everything else was shut down for the deadly pandemic), while the internet ended the day after television (because the internet is manually operated by humans), and it was only *after* that that the electricity went out. Once the electricity went out, it was just gone; no one had any solar panels or solar chargers or knowledge of engineering or access to books. And so even 20 years later, electricity was a concept of the mythical past.

I don't know. I find it a bit difficult to believe that so much knowledge would be lost in a world that ended from disease rather than war, and that the survivors would rebuild so slowly. But then, this book really wasn't about surviving in the aftermath of a pandemic, despite its setting. It was about tracing the interconnected lives of a group of people joined by their associations with a certain actor. It was about choices and regrets, loss and acceptance. If you enjoy literary fiction in general, I suspect that you'll enjoy this book as well. But if you're primarily drawn in by the post-apocalyptic setting, you may want to think twice.
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LibraryThing member mckait
"It was exactly like waking up from a dream"
Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel
I didn't have very high expectations for this book. There was a little too much hype, and it is my experience that much hyped books tend to disappoint. This did not. There are only so many ways to do post apocalyptic, right? Well. probably. But Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel has a feel to it that I have not run across in other such novels I have read.
While the story is necessarily dark, it is the end of life as we know it after all, there is a gentleness to many of the characters that is impossible to ignore. There is a ray of hope that is unique in my experience of this genre. I Loved Kristen, August and Charlie, and the flawed but well meaning and kind Arthur Leander.
Mitakuye Oyasin is a Lakota Sioux term that is at the center of my personal beliefs. The most simple explanation for this term is We are all related. To me, this story exemplifies this relationship of all living things. No matter how dire the circumstances of the moment, there is always promise coming from somewhere, even if is only from within. And that is the beauty of this story. The promise and the hope that lives in the hearts of the characters, and the connections that only obvious from the outside, looking into this story.
Don't miss this one. Recommended!
'"It was exactly like waking up from a dream"

Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel

I didn't have very high expectations for this book. There was a little too much hype, and it is my experience that much hyped books tend to disappoint. This did not. There are only so many ways to do post apocalyptic, right? Well. probably. But Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel has a feel to it that I have not run across in other such novels I have read.

While the story is necessarily dark, it is the end of life as we know it after all, there is a gentleness to many of the characters that is impossible to ignore. There is a ray of hope that is unique in my experience of this genre. I Loved Kristen, August and Charlie, and the flawed but well meaning and kind Arthur Leander.

Mitakuye Oyasin is a Lakota Sioux term that is at the center of my personal beliefs. The most simple explanation for this term is We are all related. To me, this story exemplifies this relationship of all living things. No matter how dire the circumstances of the moment, there is always promise coming from somewhere, even if is only from within. And that is the beauty of this story. The promise and the hope that lives in the hearts of the characters, and the connections that only obvious from the outside, looking into this story.

Don't miss this one. Recommended!'
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LibraryThing member kell1732
Overall Impression: One of the best books I've read in some time, and definitely one of the best post-apocalyptic books I've ever read.

Recommended For: Fans of post-apocalyptic literature and just fiction in general. Also fans of character-driven stories.

Emily St. John Mandel's post-apocalyptic tale is one of the most human of its genre, focusing more on the lives of its characters before and after the disease that decimated the Earth's population, rather than the actual event itself. Mandel takes us on a journey that demonstrates the human ability to love, hate, forgive, and ultimately, endure in an unforgiving world.

This story isn't plot driven, like so many other books that examine this same subject, but rather character-driven. This, in my opinion, can be even more all-consuming than a fast-paced plot as long as the characters are written well. Station Eleven is an example of that kind of book.

I had pretty much had my fill of post-apocalyptic books, and pretty much won't read them anymore unless they are recommended to me. One of my grad school instructors raved about this book, so I decided to give it try, and I'm so happy I did. The take on the post-apocalyptic genre was refreshing, mainly because it focuses more on the aftermath of the event (in this case a disease) as well giving us enough information into the past lives of some of these characters that makes us feel the underlying fear that many of us carry—this could be us one day.

Much like what World War Z did with zombies, Station Eleven is a book that focuses on the consequences of the decisions that were made when the event actually happens. There is barely even a description of what occurs, which is fine since it's a flu like virus that spreads and that's all you really need to know, and because of this, Mandel is able to focus on the psychological consequences for its survivors, and how this affects the type of societal structures that are formed.

I also have to say that the use of the comic book "Station Eleven" was very well done. "Station Eleven" is the last comic book that Kirsten receives from the ageing actor who dies in the beginning of the book. Kirsten has managed to keep this comic through all of the trials she has faced growing up in this post-apocalyptic and often dangerous world, and she considers it her most prized possession.Throughout the narrative, sections are interspersed about the woman who wrote the comic and her life while she wrote it, thus giving us a reason to feel a connection to this work along with Kirsten. Granted, it is for different reasons that we end up feeling this connection, but the connection is made nonetheless and that is more than most books do. So many times, we will read about characters who have an object they feel highly attached to, but something is lost when we aren't able to feel the same connection. In the case of Station Eleven, both the reader and the character feel a connection to this central object which gives this book a whole layer that other books lack. Am I saying that this should occur with every coveted object that a character has, no. I'm just saying that it is interesting to see it done, and see it done so well.

This is a stunning accomplishment that is a must-read for any literary fiction or post-apocalyptic fiction fan. I'm looking forward to reading more work from Emily St. John Mandel.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
STATION ELEVEN, by Emily St. John Mandel.

Full disclosure: I didn't really want to read this book. I was cajoled into it because it is this year's pick for the Great Michigan Read. And, as I suspected when I'd taken a look at it last year, it's not really my kind of book.

The premise is not really a new one. The world's population is decimated by a flu pandemic, leaving behind just scattered groups of survivors, some good, some bad. The principal good group here is represented by a band of actors and musicians called the Traveling Symphony, who put on Shakespearean plays and give concerts as they travel around the perimeters of lower Michigan, along the shores of Lakes Michigan and Huron. (Probably why the Humanities Council chose this as the Great Michigan Read, but a pretty weak reason.) The bad group is a religious cult led by a charismatic man called The Prophet.

There is a mysterious connection between these groups, which keeps the story moving forward. Unfortunately, I guessed the connection about 60 pages in, then kept reading, reluctantly, for another 240 pages or so to see if I was right. I was. (Sigh.)

The very name Traveling Symphony brought to mind the Grimm Brothers' Bremen Town Musicians and Disney's Silly Symphony, stuff I enjoyed as a kid, but wouldn't much now. And I didn't terribly enjoy STATION ELEVEN. Reading it became something of a slog, a chore. There were too many characters and the connections and actions were often tenuous and/or predictable. The novel reminded me of many other things I have read and seen. Most recently, a YA novel by Sigrid Nunez called SALVATION CITY, which, while well written, was not for me. I thought too of another YA novel I read in high school which I remember enjoying tremendously, but that was over fifty years ago, when I was much younger: Pat Frank's ALAS, BABYLON. And there are a few films I remember too: PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO, PANIC IN THE STREETS, and THE WORLD, THE FLESH, AND THE DEVIL. There were more - THE OMEGA MAN, I AM LEGEND, and others. But enough, ya know?

Mandel inserted her own details and twists into her post-apocalypse story: elements of Star Trek, Calvin & Hobbs, The Hunger Games, TV shows and mentions of zombies and vampires. All very au courant pop culture crap that this 'old' reader found not very interesting.

I like, first of all, 'character' in a novel. The characters here are pretty much cardboard, not very deep or memorable. The writing is good enough, workmanlike, the plot lumbers along to not much of a finish.

In case you haven't guessed yet, I was not crazy about STATION ELEVEN. But I finished it. Mission accomplished, I guess. I'll recommend it to much younger readers - the ones who liked Harry Potter and The Hunger Game books. Me? I'm just glad to be done with it.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I can scarcely remember my first encounter with the post-apocalyptic road story genre. Perhaps it was the BBC television series 'Survivors' which initially enthralled before merely irritating viewers during the late 1970s. Shortly afterwards there was Stephen King's 'The Stand', which lowered the bar a bit further. Cormac McCarthy restored some class to the genre with 'The Road', but it has been to Emily St John Mandel to bring it to its apotheosis with the awesome 'Station Eleven'.

The basic scenario is simple, but chilling. As the novel opens, feted actor Arthur Leander is performing in the title role of 'King Lear' in the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, when he suddenly collapses and, despite the sustained efforts of Jeevan, who yearns to become a paramedic, dies on stage. Arthur is not the only person dying unexpectedly in Toronto that evening. Earlier in the day a plane had landed from Eastern Europe with a number of passengers unaware that they were carrying Georgian Flu. As snow starts to fall, the emergency rooms at the city's hospitals are already filling up with patients in the deeper throes of desperate illness, and the epidemic has already taken hold. The spread and impact of the disease is unstoppable, and within days millions of people around the world are dead, and the fragile foundations of the infrastructure of cohesive civilisation are crumbling.

The action then moves on twenty years and focuses on Kirsten Raymonde who is part of a band of survivors who move around the Great lakes area of North America. There is no society left. All that remains are scattered gatherings of survivors. There is no electricity, and what fuel that remains has gone stale and cannot be used. There is certainly no imposed authority - each settlement has established its own laws and focuses on its own survival. Some of these communities are worse than others, but there are some common factors throughout: outsiders are unwelcome and viewed with suspicion.

Much of the above must sound like fairly customary post-apocalyptic fodder. Where Mandel makes such a difference is in her decision to make Kirsten's band of survivors so different. The group is known as 'The Travelling Symphony' and comprises a selection of musicians and actors who have taken to performing some of the more popular works of classical music and performing Shakespeare's plays. Their motto, taken from an episode of 'Star Trek: Voyager' is 'Mere survival is insufficient'. We subsequently learn that Kirsten had been one of a group of young girls who had actually been in the production of 'King Lear' featuring Arthur Leander.

The story flashes back at various stages to illuminate the earlier life of some of the characters, and Mandel interlaces the story with terrific dexterity. Her language is amazing, too. She manages to combine a ferocious clarity with moments of almost poetic beauty. The title of the novel is a reference to a comic series featured in two books that are among Kirsten's most prized possessions from before the demise. There is a complex and moving back story involving these comics which lend a spellbinding further dimension to the novel.

It's not all positive though!. It is only early February but I am already now facing the remainder of 2015 with some disappointment because I find it difficult to believe I will be lucky enough to read anything as good as this in the rest of the year.
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LibraryThing member julie10reads
One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the cross hairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Summary BPL

It’s funny how it worked out. My two most recent reads have been post-apocalyptic tales--not YA for a change--written by female authors. Reading them back to back highlighted the thematic and stylistic differences giving me a heightened appreciation of both.

STATION ELEVEN came highly recommended to me--thanks, Monica!--and the long library queue pointed to its popularity. It was neat the way the author scooted around the whole post-pandemic chaos by starting her scenario in Year 20, i.e. twenty years after the “Georgia” flu pandemic laid waste to 99% of the world’s population. Sort of “how we live now” after the end of the world: what has changed and what hasn’t; what’s important and what’s not. Emily St. John Mandel makes the point that the survivors under 20 years of age don’t long for the old technology, the old pre-packaged, instant, delivered-to-your-door way of life. Wandering from community to community within a for-the-most-part safe geographical zone or living in one is the norm for the young people. Interesting distinction that made me stop and think.

“Because survival is insufficient” is the Traveling Symphony’s unofficial motto. Having enough to eat and feeling safe aren’t enough: when life’s basic needs are met, the needs of the spirit surface--music and theatre (Shakespeare is preferred to more modern plays!). A new civilization is being born! A cult leader attempts to hijack this process for his own agenda. We discover that he inherited his evangelical mission from his mother who typifies the God-sent-the-pandemic-to-punish-us believer. I don’t know; is Ms Mandel implying that a population devastation could actually work as a reboot for the next generation?

STATION ELEVEN isn’t all post-apocalypse. Ms Mandel said in an interview that she thought she would like to write about the cult of the famous phenomenon we are experiencing now with social media tracking down celebrities and recording their lives in unprecedented detail. This became Arthur Leander’s part of the novel. I feel his story deserved a book of its own instead of taking up so much room in this one. I would have enjoyed exploring the parallel dimension between his stage persona of Lear with his three daughters and 50 something Arthur with his three wives. I caught the whiff of a link between his first wife, Miranda (another Shakespeare character) and Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia. Loved the Canadian settings here, particularly Toronto.

I’m not sure I understand the title and that bugs me. Station Eleven is the comic strip fantasy world dreamt up by Arthur’s first wife, Miranda. Aldous Huxley used one of Miranda’s lines for his futuristic novel BRAVE NEW WORLD: “O brave new world, that has such marvellous things in it!” I am quoting from memory. Is the comic strip Station Eleven the way our world, our generation thinks of the future? Whereas, the real STATION ELEVEN is actually humanity starting all over again?

STATION ELEVEN is a book that stays with you. Lots to think about.
8 out of 10 Highly recommended to all readers!
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
It isn't often that I re-read a book within a few months, but I was so astounded by this masterpiece that I have now read it for the third time in the space of not much more than a year, and it just gets better with each new reading.

I can scarcely remember my first encounter with the post-apocalyptic road story genre. Perhaps it was the BBC television series 'Survivors' which initially enthralled before merely irritating viewers during the late 1970s. Cormac McCarthy restored some class to the genre with 'The Road', but it has been to Emily St John Mandel to bring it to its apotheosis with the awesome 'Station Eleven'.

The basic scenario is simple, but chilling. As the novel opens, fêted actor Arthur Leander is performing in the title role of 'King Lear' in the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, when he suddenly collapses and, despite the sustained efforts of Jeevan, who yearns to become a paramedic, dies on stage. Arthur is not the only person dying unexpectedly in Toronto that evening. Earlier in the day a plane had landed from Eastern Europe, packed with passengers unaware that they were carrying Georgian Flu. As snow starts to fall, the emergency rooms at the city's hospitals are rapidly filling up with patients in the deeper throes of desperate illness, and the epidemic has already taken hold. The spread and impact of the disease is unstoppable, and within a few days hundreds of millions of people around the world are dead, and the fragile foundations of the infrastructure of cohesive civilisation are crumbling.

The action then moves on twenty years and focuses on Kirsten Raymonde who is part of a band of survivors who move around the Great Lakes area of North America. There is no society left. All that remains are scattered gatherings of survivors. There is no electricity, and what fuel that remains has gone stale and cannot be used. There is certainly no imposed authority - each settlement has established its own discrete laws and is focused solely on its own survival. Some of these communities are worse than others, but there are some common factors throughout: outsiders are unwelcome and viewed with suspicion.

Of course, much of the above description must sound like fairly customary post-apocalyptic fodder. Emily Mandel’s stroke of genius, that sets this book so far above others in the genre, resides in her decision to make Kirsten's band of survivors so different. The group calls itself ‘The Travelling Symphony' and comprises a selection of musicians and actors who have taken to performing some of the more popular works of classical music and performing Shakespeare's plays. Their motto, taken from an episode of 'Star Trek: Voyager' is 'Because survival is insufficient'. We subsequently learn that Kirsten had been one of a group of young girls who had actually been in the production of 'King Lear' featuring Arthur Leander.

In fact, in many ways Arthur Leander is the hub around which the whole novel revolves. Although he dies within the first few pages, Mandel fills in much of his life as remembered by other key characters. The story flashes back at various stages to illuminate the earlier life of some of the characters, and Mandel interlaces the story with terrific dexterity. Her language is amazing, too. She manages to combine a ferocious clarity with moments of startling beauty. The title of the novel is a reference to a comic series featured in two books that are among Kirsten's most prized possessions from before the demise. There is a complex and moving back story involving these comics which lend a spellbinding further dimension to the novel.

When I previously reviewed this novel last year I bemoaned the fact that it was unlikely that I would read anything else quite so good throughout the rest of the year. I was fortunate enough to read some excellent books throughout the rest of last year, and so far through 2016, but I still feel that nothing has really topped this … with the possible exception of Emily St John Mandel’s own ‘Last Night in Montreal’, and I sense an imminent re-reading of that, too!
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LibraryThing member suballa
The Georgia Flu has swept the globe, wiping out 99% of the world’s population. With them went everything that had been taken for granted: technology, medicine, and electricity to name a few. Those who survived are forced into an uncertain future fraught with dangers.
Among the survivors is Jeevan Chaudhary. On the very eve of the pandemic, Jeevan was in the audience when famous actor Arthur Leander was struck down on stage. After aiding in the attempt to save the actor, Jeevan learns of the impending disaster from a doctor friend at the hospital. With this advance notice, he is able to stock up supplies and attempt to wait out the disaster holed up in an apartment with his brother. He could never have imagined what would be left of the world when he emerged. Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress standing off stage when Arthur is struck, is barely 8 years old when the flu hits and life as she knows it is changed forever. Left to wander the landscape with her older brother, Kirsten learns quickly what it takes to survive.
Fast forward 20 years and Kirsten is now part of the Travelling Symphony, a troupe that travels from one community to the next playing music and performing Shakespeare. Dangers have always lurked in the wasteland that they travel, but now a new and greater threat has emerged in the form of the Prophet. Again, life as she knows it is threatened and Kirsten will do whatever it takes to keep her new “family” from harm.
Yes, another dystopic novel but the characters, not the chaos surrounding them, are the focus of this story. I love Emily’s writing. She has the ability to draw you in so completely that you are right there, watching events play out before you. With an uncanny ability to tie everything together without forsaking her beautiful writing, she is an author who should not be missed.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
A popular book and I can see why. It isn’t brutal. It isn’t cruel. It doesn’t glory in violence or deprivation. It doesn’t wear the blame hairshirt. Yet it is heavy with post-apocalypse atmosphere and has an air of positivity about it. Things even end on a high note.

As the people’s lives and situations slowly wove together I was reminded of Iain Pears and how he does similar things in his books. Some might not appreciate that everyone and everything is connected, saying it’s too fake, but I liked it. As people and circumstances slotted together my mind, my reader’s brain if you like, was quietly satisfied.

At first I wasn’t sure we needed to know so much about Arthur since he dies on page 1 pretty much. But then there was the prophet’s dog - Lilu - and I knew it had to link. Basically Arthur is the hub around which the whole story spins. Even though she is young, trust the author to do right by you and just enjoy the ride.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
I really had not intended to be reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven right in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. It just turned out that way because I checked the book out of my local library almost six weeks ago, and only just realized a few days ago that it is due back there this week. So time was running out on me. But now that Station Eleven will be forever connected in my mind with the Coronavirus, I know this is one I will remember for a long, long time – for lots of reasons.

Station Eleven is a beautifully constructed dystopian novel that spans the two weeks just before, and the 15-20 years following, the outbreak of a virus so deadly that it wipes out almost the entire population of the planet. The story begins during a Toronto production of King Lear during which the lead actor collapses and dies on-stage of a heart attack. Arthur Leander’s death, as it turns out, will be a prophetic one because almost everyone else in the theater that night will themselves be dead within just a few days. Two people who were in the theater, paramedic Jeevan Chaudhary and child actor Kirsten Raymonde, do survive to become major characters in the novel.

As the author describes it:

“There was the flu that exploded like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth and the shock of the collapse that followed, the first unspeakable years when everyone was traveling, before everyone caught on that there was no place they could walk to where life continued as it had been before and settled wherever they could, clustered close together for safety in truck stops and former restaurants and old motels.”

And rather eerily, there is the scene during which an epidemiologist goes on a television news program to describe how the virus manifests itself:

“Aches and pains. A sudden high fever. Difficulty breathing. Look, it’s a fast incubation period. If you’re exposed, you’re sick in three or four hours and dead in a day or two.” (At which point, the newscaster decides it’s time for a “quick commercial break.”)

Station Eleven is largely set in the two decades following the outbreak of the deadly flu, and it features a group of characters somehow connected to Arthur, the actor who dies on stage at the beginning of he book. For instance, Kirsten, the young actor who was on stage with Arthur when he died, is now part of a small troupe of actors and musicians (called the Traveling Symphony) that walks from settlement to settlement performing Shakespeare and playing music for entertainment-starved people. And Jeevan finds that his paramedic training makes him the closest thing to a real doctor that anyone living around him will ever see again. Too, all three of Arthur’s ex-wives and his son play major roles in the novel.

What makes Station Eleven particularly poignant is the way Mandel uses flashbacks to show what the lives of her characters were like before their world ended in a whimper the way that it did. The flashbacks are especially affective when they occur only hours before the pandemic onset and Mandel makes it a point to note that a character was enjoying his second-to-last cup of coffee or some such thing.

Bottom Line: Station Eleven is an impressive dystopian novel that will (unfortunately) strike a particularly familiar chord with future readers who have experienced the Coronavirus outbreak for themselves. The novel cleverly pulls together a series of characters and stories that all come together, full-circle, by the novel’s end. Station Eleven ends pretty much where it began, in fact, leaving the reader with a lot to ponder. Reading this one right now may not be for everyone, but if you do read it now, I guarantee you that it will stick with you and give you plenty to think about. I highly recommend this one.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
I don't read many post-apocalyptic novels. This book had high ratings from readers I admire, and it is on overdrive (library ebooks), so I started. I couldn't put it down. It made me think about the world and the many "things" we have and take for granted, and the things we don't really need. The main characters captivated me. It a book I'll recommend in 2015.… (more)
LibraryThing member publiusdb
For the longest time, I had no idea what to say about Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. Not only does it defy description, but the description it does get is pretty accurate ...and yet, so wrong.

Here, for example, from the last paragraph of the Amazon description:

"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."

So, yes. All that is there. Station Eleven is, sort of, a post-apocalyptic tale, heavily interlaced with flashbacks to before and during the apocalypse. Mandel does a really excellent job of weaving the stories of a cast of individuals together over time and space, and the complex endeavor works well. It's no wonder that no other than George R.R. Martin thought that it should have gotten the nomination for best novel on the Hugo ballot. He loves a complex plot and Station Eleven has got all sorts of complex stuff going on. As Martin says, it really shouldn't work, but it does, and the story ends up being a satisfying read (with one caveat, which I'll mention in a minute).

In any other year, Station Eleven might even have garnered a nomination for the Hugo (if just on the weight of Martin's nod?). I don't know that I would have given it the award, but it's definitely good enough, artsy enough, and different enough to attract the typical Hugo voter's attention. This year, however, with Sad Puppies going on and all sorts of anti-Sad Puppies pushing against Sad Puppy nominations, the typical voter is not typical. For better or worse, Station Eleven just isn't the sort of scifi to catch the attention of the mainstream science fiction reader.

That said, Station Eleven has received all sorts of other awards. These include the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015), PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015), The Rooster - The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015), Women's Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015), and National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014). You can see that, with the exception of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, none of these are science fiction awards and, frankly, that fits. The book is good, but it's hard to find much about it that is science fiction--well, other than the virus that wipes nearly everyone out. It feels less science fiction and most character study, with a twist of pandemic slipped in for good measure.

Which actually leads me to that caveat I mentioned earlier and why I only give Station Eleven four stars. In as much as it is good writing, there's something that isn't quite fulfilling about it for me. In as much as Mandel focuses the story around a single character--who is dead by the time the apocalypse starts--I found it difficult to know who to cheer for and, perhaps as a corollary to that, what to care about. I was never quite clear where the story was going and what the point was. It was almost like life, moving on and along in spite of tragedy's starring role. History is just one thing after another, and humans will sometimes survive, and sometimes not, will sometimes be good, and sometimes not. If there is anything that is consistent, it's that Mandel is relying on coincidence to fuel the mystery of Station Eleven to continually bring her characters together, over and over, despite all improbability, and after a certain point it seems to belie the seemingly random nature of her story. There just isn't a large enough connection for me in the things that tie her characters together over time and over space to fully suspend disbelief.

Station Eleven pulls in the reader and mystery keeps the reader close. But what remains after finishing is less clear, maybe even forgettable, and perhaps that is why for me Station Eleven is, ultimately, just a good read.
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LibraryThing member kalky
Described as dystopian fiction, STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel
follows countless characters as they navigate life before, during, and after an outbreak of a devastating virus. This is a wonderful novel that is less about living in a dystopian society and more about what it is to live.

The character development in STATION ELEVEN is fantastic. I typically dislike books with shifting perspectives because I care more about some characters and find myself skimming the sections that focus on anyone I dislike. Mandel kept me involved with every single one of her characters. I also tend to lose interest in books that jump willy nilly through time. Not so with STATION ELEVEN. Despite the non-linear approach to the narrative, I remained engrossed and happily accepted wherever the author wanted to place me as I read.

What grabbed me throughout the novel was the *yearning*. Everyone in the book is searching for something and struggling mightily--some physically, some mentally, and some emotionally--to get where they want to be. Maybe it's an overstatement to say that relaying that yearning was exquisitely done, but that's what comes to mind for me right now.

Finally, I was so happy when I found intelligent and interesting questions at the back of the book to lead group discussions. I'm not sure when I last saw such an excellent guide to accompany a novel.

I rarely give books five stars, but STATION ELEVEN has everything I want from a novel: great characters, beautiful writing, suspense, a fast paced plot, and depth. Well done.
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LibraryThing member Laiane
I really wanted to give this book 5 stars, but there were a few loose ends in it that nagged at me. Who was Arthur's friend V., really? What happened to her -- as a person before The Collapse, not how she died? Why only a ghost of a shade of a flashback to Kirsten's first year on the road from Toronto to Ohio? (Seriously, that was a cop out. How did an 8 year old and her teenage brother survive that trip?)

The book knocked the stuffing out of me. I feel like there's a hole in my chest somewhere, something like a beautiful grief. I will re-read it in a few months. Until then I will be haunted by the image of Air Gradia Flight 452, the last flight that landed at the terminal, after all the cell phones were useless but before the television stations winked out one by one:

A final airplane was landing, an Air Gradia jet, but as Clark watched it made a slow turn on the tarmac and moved away from instead of toward the terminal building. It parked in the far distance, and no ground crew went to meet it . . . .

It occurred to him that the Air Gradia jet was as far away from the terminal as it could possibly go . . . .

It was possible to comprehend the scope of the outbreak, but it wasn't passible to comprehend what it meant. Clark stood by the terminal's glass wall in the Mexican restaurant, watching the stillness of the Air Gradia jet in the far distance, and he realized later that if he didn't understand at that moment why it was out there alone, it was only because he didn't want to know . . . .

No one emerged from the Air Gradia jet on the tarmac . . . .


Weeks later in the same chapter:

The maintenance of sanity required some recalibrations having to do with memory and sight. There were things Clark trained himself not to think about. Everyone he'd ever known outside the airport, for instance. And here at the airport, Air Gradia 452, silent in the distance near the perimeter fence, by unspoken agreement never discussed. Clark tried not to look at it and sometimes almost manged to convince himself that it was empty, like all of the other planes out there. Don't think of that unspeakable decision, to keep the jet sealed rather than expose a packed airport to a fatal contagion. Don't think about what enforcing that decision may have required. Don't think about those last few hours on board.


To be honest, the entire book will haunt me for a while.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Some novels are science fiction. Some novels are literary. It’s the rare novel that is both. Station Eleven is both.

I won’t tell you much about the plot because that’s one of the beauties of this story, but I will say that it circles around a famous actor, a comic book, the actor’s various wives and son, a young actress who worked with the actor, and a devastating flu that kills almost everyone in the world. It goes forward in time and back in time. It tells the story from lots of points of view. And it all comes together in a lovely way.… (more)
LibraryThing member crazybatcow
I starred this with 3 stars before I wrote my review of it. Now that I am writing the review, I don't know why I was so generous with the stars. It is just barely worthy of the 3rd star. And probably only gets the 3rd star because it is a Canadian author and set in Canada, and I have a soft spot for those facts.

It is certainly Canadian in style. If you have read much Canadian lit, you won't be surprised at the tone and, dare I say it... the pretentiousness here... and if you like that style of writing, you might give this 4 stars. I do not. I prefer action that is action-y and writing that propels the story more than it shows the extent of the author's literary skills.

Even the characters' post-apoc "jobs" are pretentious... a travelling theatre company? seriously? well, the author should get credit for coming up with an unexpected and different "scenario" that moves characters from point A to point B.

I moved this book from point A, my lap, to point B, the donation bin.
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Pages

352

ISBN

0385353308 / 9780385353304
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