Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf
Publish Date: September 9, 2014
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "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.

Twenty 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. "

My Two Cents:

"Station Eleven" is another one of those books where I can't believe that it took me so long to get around to reading it. I was happy to have a chance as part of the book club that I'm in. In this book, the world has faced a devastating flu pandemic where the major majority of humans have died. Society is devastated and nothing can go back to the way that it once was. This book explores what happened just before, during, and after the pandemic (like several years after the pandemic). The story telling is riveting and it is no secret why this book has been as popular as it has been.

This book has a huge cast. This can be dangerous territory for a writer. Too many characters and the risk of characters blending together becomes quite high. This is not the case for this book. Mandel does a great job of creating really interesting characters who are totally and utterly unique. Mandel teases out how these characters are all related to each other. It's beautiful they way that they all come together. Much of the book focuses on Kirsten (she ended up being my favorite character), a young woman who now travels with a company made up of actors and musicians who travel all over putting on Shakespeare plays for any bit of humanity that they can find well after the pandemic has ended. Prior to the pandemic, Kirsten was a little girl who once watched a great actor die on stage just prior to the pandemic. Because she was so young when the pandemic happened, she barely remembers the world before which shapes her perspective. I loved seeing how the author dealt with the different perspectives in the book.

The world building in this book is great. I think one of the scariest things about this book and one of the reasons that it will stick with me for such a long time is that Mandel takes a world that truly feels like the one I know and turns it on its head. It feels very real. She goes into detail about how quickly things go downhill after the pandemic starts. Society as we the readers know it, changes in just a matter of days. Things that we take for granted like electricity and communication via internet and phone only last for a little bit after the pandemic takes hold. Taking something so familiar and turning it into something so different so quickly is terrifying. 

I really enjoyed this book! The best books stick with you the longest and this one certainly has staying power!


  1. Aaaah, dying to read this one! I'm sure I'll regret waiting so long, too!

  2. I read this, too, and had the same reaction you did: Wow! What took me so long to read this? And to think I almost passed this up. Had it not won a Great Michigan Read award, I wouldn't have read STATION ELEVEN and wouldn't have known how excellent it is.

    Throughout the book are mentions of two comic books/graphic novels about Station Eleven, who created them and under what circumstances, and who possessed each over the next 20 years. It is a story within a story, each parallelling the other in several ways.

    The main story goes back and forth in time and contains many characters, with no single main character, although perhaps a main group of characters. It would be confusing if an author less skillful than Emily St. John Mandel had written it. I found it easy to follow. I recommend STATION ELEVEN.

  3. I'm not sure what I missed. I read this one shortly after it's release because it had received a lot of hype at a library event I went to. It just didn't work for me. I didn't even like it enough to review it! :(

  4. Sounds like this is one for my reading shelf.
    sherry @ fundinmental

  5. I keep thinking I need to read this one.


  6. I agree that this book sticks with you long after finishing it. I didn't give it a 5 star rating after I finished it but i think about it every day so I should go back and amend my rating. Thanks for the good review.

  7. I finished this book the other day because my book club read it. Granted... I didn't get through it the first time I picked it up (about a year ago) because I got frustrated with the huge cast and constantly changing times/places. But once you commit to learning who's who I agree it is a fantastic read! I wish I would have committed the first time so I could have participated in my group's discussion. Great review, thanks for posting!


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