Book Review: Station Eleven

Posted March 5, 2015 by Kara in book review, Kara / 3 Comments

Book Review: Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf on September 9th, 2014
Genres: adult, post apocalyptic
Pages: 333
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

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 Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

There are books that make you think, there are books that make you reflect on life, there are books that change you. Station Eleven is all three. It’s a devastating look at how a terrible virus could end the world in a matter of days. The players in this book are not head honchos, government officials, or the chosen ones. No, the characters in this book are people like you and me. People with regular jobs, people that live ordinary day to day lives. And as such, I think that’s really what makes the book hit so close to home. I can relate to it because it’s about people like me.

It’s also part love letter to technology and the arts, and how difficult and incredibly depressing life is without those things. But the characters in this book try their hardest to keep those memories alive. A Traveling Symphony of performers–an orchestra and theater actors–walks from town to town, performing Shakespeare. Painted on the side of the from car of their caravan is a phrase from Star Trek: “Because Survival is Insufficient.”

This caravan encounters a doomsday cult in one of the towns they travel to, and this cult is led by a man called The Prophet. He speaks about plagues from the Book of Revelations, and he and his followers are violent, killing just about everyone they encounter because through their twisted theology, they believe they are the Chosen Ones.

This part of the book could have gone incredibly corny and wrong, but somehow it works. Part of the reason I think almost ALL of this book works is because of the writing. It’s written in third person omniscient, and it tends to keep you at a distance, as if you are looking down on the characters and the world they live in, which normally would bug me, but I loved it here. The writing is loaded with perfect imagery, and some interesting parallels can be drawn if you are the type of reader that looks for that stuff in the narrative. It’s beautiful.

It wasn’t all perfect though. The ending felt a bit rushed, and though I really connected to the story and the ideas, I had a hard time with some of the characters. I just felt like they all had the same personality and voice, and that there wasn’t much depth to them.  Also, the Jeevan storyline trails off and becomes a bit pointless. I thought the Severn City Settlement survived far too easily and without enough struggle.

All in all, though, it was definitely one of the most memorable books I think I will read this year. I highly recommend it, and I think there is something in Station Eleven for everyone. Also, I’d really like to grab a copy of the graphic novel this book got its title from. So I hope the author thinks about writing that at some point.

Favorite quote: “No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.”


3 responses to “Book Review: Station Eleven

  1. I’ve heard really good things about this book. The only thing that has kept me from reading it already is that I’m kind of freaked out by illnesses, especially those that ruin the world. I’m not quite sure if I’ll read this eventually, but I love the discussion I have seen about the ideas in this.
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  2. Oh I am so glad you loved this one. I read it last year and it was one of my favorites. It really made me think of what life would be like without all these conveniences that we take for granted, everything from refrigerators to computers and motorcycles. I thought this one was a bit different from other apocalyptic novels because it shows how civilization survives decades after the virus. I thought it was really interesting when they talked about kids who didn’t remember what life was like before. It was so weird to think about.
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