Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Published February 22, 2015 by bibliobeth

Station Eleven proof.indd

What’s it all about?:

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 saviour, 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 Travelling 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.

What did I think?:

First of all, a big thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Press for letting me read a copy of this much-hyped and intense dystopian novel prior to its publication. I first heard the buzz about this novel on Twitter and was instantly intrigued so felt very lucky to be approved to read it in exchange for an honest review. Station Eleven is the story of our world suddenly crippled by a deadly strain of Georgian flu which carries a 99% mortality rate. Just prior to the virus taking hold we are introduced to an actor called Arthur Leander who is performing the lead role in Shakespeare’s King Lear when mid-performance, he suffers a heart attack, collapsing on stage. Jeevan Chaudhary, former pap turned paramedic is watching in the audience and performs CPR on Arthur to no avail and he is pronounced dead right in front of terrified child actress, Kirsten Raymonde. Later on that night, the lethal flu arrives in town and starts to claim its first victims sending the entire world into panic and meltdown.

Twenty years later, known as “Year Twenty,” (post flu pandemic) the survivors across the world are still recovering and attempting to re-build their lives in strange and sometimes dangerous times. Kirsten, the child actress from the King Lear production is one of the survivors and travels the land with a company known as The Travelling Symphony that perform plays and music (yep, they even have their very own orchestra) in small towns where survivors are nestled. One town they pass through however is proving quite difficult to leave. Within it lives a prophet who has banded together a close set of devoted followers that hang onto his every word. Also, he gets slightly upset when anyone who has entered his community tries to leave…

The novel goes back in time to the years prior to the pandemic where we learn a lot more about Arthur Leander, his three ex-wives and all those who were close to him. We also see Jeevan’s (the hero paramedic) fight to keep himself and his disabled brother alive by barricading themselves in their home while on the television, various newscasters are signing off for the last time. Meanwhile, in the present time, Kirsten is clutching onto what remains of a comic book drawn in the years before the flu takes hold, certain that it plays an important role in everything that she is experiencing in the post-flu years.

So, confession time. While I did enjoy this novel as a whole and thought the links were extremely clever, I didn’t love it as much as I thought I was going to. I sometimes wonder with books like these whether the “hype monster” is to blame and my expectations were set too high. Good points – the characterisation was superb. I loved the bravery of Jeevan and the strength of Kirsten and found myself itching to know the finer details of the life of Arthur Leander. The prophet was a terrific villain and the world-building of a dystopian future without all the material things we take for granted i.e. electricity, heating, availability of food felt like a very authentic apocalypse. I don’t really have many problems with this novel except that I would have liken the religious fanatics element to have been developed a bit further as there was real potential for drama and terror with this story-line. It is a compelling read nonetheless, just not the five star explosion I was hoping for.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


8 comments on “Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

  • Station Eleven sounds like an interesting read! I’ve had it on my wishlist for a while now and it seems like it’s worth buying… Although I’m kind of afraid because of the hype around it.

  • I bought this book and am really keen to read it, but at the same time I have a love/fear thing with epidemics, so I need to be in the right mood to read it. Interesting review, I think there has been a lot of hype about it, but I’m still looking forward to it.

    • There has definitely been a lot of hype and I hope it lives up to it for you. I really enjoyed it, I think I was just expecting it to be a “five-star” read. But for me, it’s a brilliant “four-star” and worth the effort. 🙂

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