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.
A lovely, eerie, thought-provoking look at humanity and the end of the world as we know it ("not with a bang but with a whisper").Station Eleven certainly wasn’t something I would have picked up on my own. For one thing, I rarely read outside of YA—a habit I should change, perhaps?—and I generally don’t go in for Weighty Literary Adult Novels that Have Won Pretentious-Sounding Things (unnecessary capitalization is great, just saying). But then Alyssa read it and adored it, and although our book taste diverges on some points (I’ve got a much bigger soft spot for romance and sentimentality, possibly too big, and I am also an unabashed YA fantasy monster), I still trust her opinions because she’s an amazing writer and an even better friend. So when Alyssa pushed this book in my direction with the promise of Shakespeare love and gorgeous writing and also the apocalypse, I had to give in to my curiosity.
Moral of the story: LISTEN TO ALYSSA.
This book was such a visionary work. Let me just get that point out of the way first—it was brilliantly conceived and executed. It was audacious and new and stunning. Yes, the end of the world is something that has fascinated us for a long, long time. But Emily St. John Mandel takes this premise and breathes life into it. She makes it realistic and uncomfortable to read. She connects characters across time and space with the quiet power of coincidence and chance meetings. She makes her setup into a work that is honest and sad and, by all accounts, thoroughly poetic.
Oh gosh. The writing style. I can’t quite pinpoint exactly what about it is so entrancing, but it’s so easy to settle into and navigate. At first, I felt mostly unimpressed, but as I went on, I began to warm to the style. While it is, at heart, definitely more for the high-minded and/or cerebral readers out there, the prose in Station Eleven reads like the voice of an old, intelligent friend.
I think I took the half star off mainly because it was kind of hard to connect to the characters. But I realize that deep character connections are extremely difficult to pull off with this kind of ensemble cast and the third-person narration, and I respect that.
To conclude: Station Eleven is a brave, brave book, and I highly recommend it, especially to fans of Interstellar or Cloud Atlas (I’ve only seen the film, so I’m basing my rec off that).
He felt extravagantly, guiltily alive.
Because survival is insufficient.
It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It was gorgeous and claustrophobic. I loved it and I always wanted to escape.
Hell is the absence of the people you long for.
First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.