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Station Eleven

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2014)
Set in the days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the 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 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.

333 pages, Hardcover

First published September 9, 2014

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About the author

Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York.

She is the author of five novels, including The Glass Hotel (spring 2020) and Station Eleven (2014.) Station Eleven was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, won the Morning News Tournament of Books, and has been translated into 34 languages. She lives in NYC with her husband and daughter.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
December 19, 2021
”Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

When the Georgia Flu sweeps around the world killing 99.6% of the population there were suddenly... a lot of people... to long for. The people missing from our lives is the hardest part. We mourn their loss, but we also have to mourn for the part of ourselves that is lost with each of their passings.

To survive is painful.

”Civilization in Year Twenty was an archipelago of small towns. These towns had fought off ferals, buried their neighbors, lived and died and suffered together in the blood-drenched years just after the collapse, survived against unspeakable odds and then only by holding together into the calm…”

I’ve met a few survivalists over the years. People who are obsessed with surviving the next great catastrophe. They have food, water, and weapons stockpiled. Some have even went so far as to build bunkers. Everyone of them has looked on me with pity when I admit that I might have a weeks worth of canned food in my house at any one time. They have all kinds of scenarios mapped out that will help insure their survival. They are more than willing to kill people to protect what is theirs.

They are living for the end of the world.

While they are buying bullets, bottled water, and MRGs I’m spending my money on fine wine, collectible books, and wonderful meals. I want civilization to continue to keep me in a bubble of protection so that I can continue to spend my money on culture for the rest of my days.

It so happens that the day before the world ends Arthur Leander, the famous movie actor, is playing a part in King Lear on the stage in Toronto. Dying is never a good thing, but when he drops from a heart attack on stage he has no idea how lucky he is. Kirsten is a child actress in the play and for a very short period of time she will think this is the worst day of her life. In the audience is Jeevan Chaudhary a paramedic trainee who leaps onto the stage and tries to the best of his abilities to save Arthur Leander’s life.

Jeevan leaves the theater thinking he has finally discovered what he wants to do with his life. His revelry is interrupted by a phone call from a friend who works in the hospital. The Georgian Flu is in the states and the medical staff have no treatment options. It is killing people faster than they can initiate medical countermeasures. Now most people who get a phone call like this would dither, would maybe even go into denial for a period of time hoping for a miraculous change in the world’s prognosis, but not Jeevan. He goes to the nearest supermarket and buys seven grocery carts filled with food.

The image of a man pushing seven carts through the streets of Toronto to his brother Frank’s apartment will stick in my mind forever.

Believing the worst... soon enough... saved his life.

Kirsten also survives, by luck, by the dint of her adaptability. We find her in the future as part of a travelling theater group. They protect each other and continue to perform the plays of the greatest playwright in the history of the world to what remains of human race.

Shakespeare survives.

And so do the first and second issues of a comic book series called Dr. Eleven because Arthur Leander’s ex-wife gave him copies of her artistic endeavor and he promptly pressed them into the hands of Kirsten mere hours before he breathed his last.

Arthur thought it would entertain his young friend for an hour or so. Little did he know these two comic books would crucially entertain her for decades.

The motto of the travelling dramatists is Survival is Insufficient. The blending of Shakespeare and a line now immortalized from Star Trek is exactly how I see the future. In fact, in my household it frequently happens now, the best of the past, blending with the best of the present, everyone must keep up. My kids, now young adults, roll their eyes every time I say “you probably need to google that”.

Of course when the world has disappeared and you can entertain children with stories of cool air or warm air just coming out of the vents and they look at you like your telling science-fiction stories; it is overwhelming to think about what has been lost.

So what would I miss?

One scoop of ice cream, not a bowl full, one scoop because when you only have one scoop you shave off these small bites and savor every one of them.

Movies, I can’t even imagine not having movies. For a while I could play the entire movies in my head, but we all know the images will begin to corrode over time and I’ll be left with highlights. Cary Grant running across a field chased by an airplane in North by Northwest. The death scene of Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner. The scene when the king stumbles out wounded but intent on fighting the final battle in The Thirteenth Warrior. Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers… in that dress... in Top Hat. Marisa Mell frolicking naked in a pile of money in Danger:Diabolik. Marlon Brando saying I coulda been a contender in On the Waterfront. Marilyn Monroe’s skirt blowing up on the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch. John Wayne staring off into the distance over the back of his lathered horse thinking about what he will find in The Searchers. I could go on and on.

Hopefully everyone would remember different scenes so we could all remember more.

Taking a hot shower. A ritual of thinking that allows me to map out my day while luxuriating in a warm continuous spray.

For those who have their entire library on their Kindles, well you are out of luck, but for me the Luddite, I’d be contending with keeping bugs and moisture as far away from my books as possible. Still, books need a controlled environment to continue to be useful so it would be a world with fewer books everyday. Like the movies it may not be that long before many books would only exist in my head.

Trains, planes and automobiles. When the world collapses the world would become flat. Global trekking would be more along the lines of seeing what is going on in the next county. I would miss being able to head to Santa Fe, Chicago, or Savannah on a whim.

Until I’m there, sitting in all my odoriferous splendor under a tree reading the tattered remains of a copy of War and Peace, it is really hard to say what I would miss the most.

Of course the end of the world is never complete without a PROPHET. The troop of dramatists make a swing back through an area where a year earlier they had left two of their members. They had hoped to reconnect with them, but soon discover that they had to move on. A religious element has taken over the region led by a man who is selling the concept of “we are the light”, but really he is saying he is the sun, the moon, and the stars.

As a friendly gesture he offers the troop of actors his protection if they donate one of the lovely young ladies from their company to become one of his wives.

Why does it always take so long for someone to put a bullet, an arrow, or a knife through a guy like this?

The troop politely declines his offer, but soon discover after leaving that they have a twelve year old stowaway who is frantic to escape because she is destined to become The PROPHET’s next wife.

Of course THE PROPHET is dissed and it soon becomes a chase as Kristen and her friends try to outrun the ire of a madman.

Emily St. John Mandel blends the future and the past together seamlessly around the life of Arthur Leander and how he continues to live in the mind of his young friend Kirsten. Mandel takes this moment in time, the death of Leander on stage, and spreads her tentacles of information backwards and forwards until the reader is captivated by the memories of the past and the people living in this theatrical future. This is an impressive performance from a young writer and now we have to wait to see what form her next novel will assume.

***4.50 out of 5 stars***

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.8k followers
December 10, 2021
For me, Station Eleven falls squarely into the category of extremely dull books that seem to be highly-rated by everyone else.

The premise totally intrigued me. You put words like pandemic and apocalyptic times together with the promise of a civilization having fallen into chaos and ruin, and I sign up every time. I honestly can't resist. But it turns out that was the only interesting thing about this book, I'm sorry to report.

First, the whole story is told in nonlinear format, jumping around time-wise from years before the pandemic to 20 years after. Is there a particular reason for this jumping around? I honestly couldn't tell, unless it's to make it hard to follow the characters and what happened to them.

Speaking of characters, the ones in here are among the most uninteresting I've ever encountered. There was nothing about them that grabbed my attention and made me care about them. And they don't have distinguishing personalities from each other. In fact, they all seem to be approximately the same person, talking and thinking in the same tedious manner. It doesn't help that we are introduced to so many people in the Symphony and they are called by their instruments instead of their actual names, as if the author couldn't be bothered to give these people proper names, let alone personalities.

Probably the worst of all is the boring plot. It seems the whole point is that there are some people who seem loosely connected at the beginning of the book, but then we follow them and realize by the end that there are a few more connections between them than was first realized. Ok...

In the first two-thirds of book, hardly anything happens, which is amazing considering this is a book about the apocalypse! It mostly switches between following a self-important actor as he goes through his acting and his successive wives, and the main character Kristen as she walks through barren desolate landscapes. There are so many descriptions of rusted out cars, dusty houses, grass and weeds, no electricity, being vigilant, etc.

I have to mention that there is also a comic book in here and we are treated to prose description of various parts of it. In case you're wondering, there's a reason why prose renditions of comic books has not taken off as a genre.

To me, the most interesting part of a premise like this is reading about what happens to civilization in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event and finding out how the people who managed to survive did so. But that isn't covered until way later in the book and its treatment was disappointing. In what is meant to add suspense to the plot, there is also a weird prophet who goes around taking wives and killing people in his way. What?

I just don't understand this book at all. So many people loved it, but to me, it's one of the most dull and disjointed books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 7 books1,216 followers
May 3, 2021
"Survival is insufficient".
Star Trek: Voyager

Novels whose premise strips away the world as we know it can be tricky territory. They can be innately dramatic, overwrought, didactic and riddled with Big Questions about Life and Death that leave no room for contemplation. Think Ayn Rand on her best day.

Or they can be like "Station Eleven". Quiet. Dark. Elegiac. Lit from within like a mysterious firefly. Unhurried. Steeped in small acts and evocative landscapes. Lonely. Elegant. Radiant. Heartbroken.

Emily St. John Mandel has written something very much akin to a perfect book. I didn't want to tell anyone about it because I felt as if it had been written for me. I wanted to tell everyone about it because it still radiates softly in the background of my days and haunts me with its delicate characters and existentialist essence.

If you have watched "The Walking Dead", you will know what I mean when I say that this extraordinary novel is another striking version of a post-apocalyptic universe where ordinary people have to decide for themselves what it means to be "human". Survival is insufficient because to be fully alive, one needs to make choices that define one's character and belonging in the world. The apocalypse is but a tabula rasa for the reinvention of freedom.

From the darkness, you will see incredible things arise. A Travelling Symphony. Shakespearian actors sleeping in tents. The first two volumes of a mysterious comic book. A jaded actor. A handful of airplanes glowing in the dusk. Fake snow falling on a theater stage.

An incandescent book.
Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
Author 81 books168k followers
November 24, 2016
I don't know if you will like this book.

It's a very particular kind of book done very well, which is not remotely a promise that you will like it. The jacket copy is not untrue, but it also isn't helpful. Yes, this is book about the end of the world as we know it, yes, this is a book about a post-apocalyptic Shakespearean troupe, yes, this is a book about a Hollywood actor's dispiriting love life. But that doesn't tell you how the book feels — what the experience is like reading it. This is less a novel of plot and more a novel of theme, a precisely painted mural of people living in extreme circumstances. Some of the chapters take place after the apocalypse, and some take place before, but it doesn't change the tone — the characters' personal worlds are under duress in both timelines.

I take back what I said about the jacket copy being true, by the way. It says this book is "suspenseful." I think that's an unfair and incorrect descriptor for a book that shines for other reasons. I couldn't put this book down, but that is not the same as being suspenseful. My attention was held by the sharp insights on every page, not by a headlong plunge toward the end. Like I said, it's a book of theme, not story. Station Eleven follows a few central characters faithfully enough to satisfy my need for a human thread, but it might not be enough for those who strongly prefer plot-driven novels.

Verdict: unsentimental and clear-eyed portrait of what humanity considers civilization.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 258 books409k followers
July 24, 2015
Adult speculative fiction

Even since reading The Stand by Stephen King when I was a kid, I’ve had a soft spot for apocalyptic plagues that wipe out humanity. Er . . . I mean in fiction, of course. Station Eleven is in that vein.

The Georgia Flu sweeps across the world, killing most of humanity. St. John-Mandel, using beautiful prose and poignant characterization, follows the lives of various survivors, tracing how their lives intersect in a group of entertainers called the Traveling Symphony. The thread that connects their stories is Arthur Leander, an aging Hollywood star who – on the same night that the plague began destroying civilization – was trying to reboot his career when he died on stage in Toronto during King Lear. We jump back and forth in time, watching how his life influenced what will happen to our band of survivors.

If you’re a fan of the TV series The Last Ship or books like The Stand, you may enjoy the premise and the way St. John-Mandel evokes a world without the trappings of modern civilization. The end of the novel hints at mysteries yet to solve for our heroes. I hope this means a sequel is in the works . . .
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,483 reviews7,781 followers
December 24, 2020
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“The thing with the new world is it’s just horrifically short on elegance.”

Everyone loved this book. I’m talking EVERYONE. I have 1 – yep ONE – friend or person I follow on Goodreads who gave it less than 3 Stars. In order to prove how much of an idiot I am and that no one should take my opinion seriously, I will super giffify this review.

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Station Eleven begins with the story of Arthur, who passes away on stage while performing King Lear, and of Jeevan, the man who tried to resuscitate Arthur, and of Kirsten, a child actress who was also in the play and witnesses Arthur’s death. We then do the wibbly-wobbly timey wimey thing that takes us to a dystopian future where 99.99999% of the population was eradicated by the “Georgian Flu” and where Kirsten is still an actress, only this time it is with the “Traveling Symphony” – an acting/musical troupe who travels the wastelands of the Canadian side of the Great Lakes performing Shakespeare. Then we flippy floppy back in time to hear Arthur and Jeevan’s respective life stories. The author also throws in a “second coming of the Lord” for good measure.

Everyone else talks about the crisp, beautiful writing and how they couldn’t put this book down and here I sit and have to confess that it took me three days to get through it (and I generally read a book a day).

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I can agree that the story and characters were intricately woven, but my reaction to those characters and their stories????

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Especially when it came to the story of the flu and the prophet. No one can ever do the end of the world/second coming better than King did with The Stand. I like my end of the world stories to grab me by the balls and not let go until I’ve become a complete germaphobe who is terrified to leave the house for a few days after reading ; ) Station Eleven left me with a reaction kind of like this . . .

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And for the “flowery writing”?????? The notes I made to myself look like this:

“No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films . . . No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take photographs of concert stages. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars. No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite. No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows . . . No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position . . .”

Followed by a brilliant comment by me: “SNOOZE!!!!”.

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Then once in a blue moon I have something like this:

“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.”

With my genius observation: “Oooooh, I like that.”

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I also have a bunch of highlights with notes to myself like: “Explain?” . . . “Will she explain??” . . . “Are they EVER going to explain this????” Guess what? The answer is NOPE.

Then there’s more of this:

“Consider the snow globe. Consider the mind that invented those miniature storms, the factory worker who turned sheets of plastic into white flakes of snow . . . consider the white gloves on the hands of the woman who inserted the snow globes into boxes to be packed into larger boxes, crates, shipping containers. Consider the card games played belowdecks in the evenings on the ship carrying the containers across the ocean . . . Consider the signature on the shipping manifest when the ship reached port . . .”

And my reaction of: “SOOOOOOOOO BORING!”

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I didn’t like it . . . but everyone else did, so I say give it a shot. And if you end up disagreeing with my opinion????

Commercial Photography

Ha! Just kidding. If you want an actual review that gives a well-stated counterpoint to this one (and uses words instead of pictures to do so), check out Kaora’s.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
December 23, 2020
Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

on the night the world begins to end, a man has a heart attack and dies onstage while performing the lead role in king lear. considering that shortly after this, the georgia flu will have killed off 99% of the population and changed the world as we know it forever, it seems unlikely that he would be remembered among so many millions dead. but that's the kind of book this is. the story of the people who have touched our lives in unexpected ways, an echoing world in which Hell is the absence of the people you long for, where the little things - or the memories of them - matter the most.

arthur leander is a famous hollywood actor with three ex-wives, a son he never sees, a lover, a friend who knew him when, and various people to whom he has been kind, careless, or otherwise meaningful, including a little girl who watches him die beside her onstage, and the paparazzo turned paramedic who tried to save his life.

twenty years later, pieces of arthur still remain in the wasteland - in the memories of survivors, in his blood, in the provenance of talismanic objects, and in the ripple effect of events he set in motion when he was still alive. this is a multiple POV novel that jumps back and forth in time, from arthur's rise to fame and the stories of those he loved and lost along the way, to the stories of the survivors, finding and creating meaning in the ashes.

Kirsten and August walked mostly in silence. A deer crossed the road ahead and paused to look at them before it vanished into the trees. The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?

kirsten is the little girl who was onstage with arthur when he died, and is now a grown woman touring the wasteland with a group of musicians and actors known as "the traveling symphony", bringing entertainment to the scattered settlements. she has a tattoo on her arm with a quote from a remembered star trek episode: Because survival is insufficient, and this is one of the major preoccupations of the novel - the importance of art and a shared cultural history to those who remain. whether it is the objects collected in the "museum of civilization," the persistence of shakespeare, the significance of portions of a tattered comic book (from which this novel draws its name) in the hands of two different characters who will take from it wildly different meanings, or even the memory of star trek, these are the things that connect those who are left. it is the tenacity of what remains, what endures, and what can still be done with it - the clinging to what makes us human - to what matters in the aftermath, and to what binds us together.

that's not to say this is a gentle apocalypse solely concerned with maintaining cultural heritage. there are dangers everywhere in a world without pharmaceuticals or technology, a world in which a lack of codified behavior can make a man believe he is a prophet, and to give his dark vision free reign.

it's a stunner, straight up. and between this and california, it's a great time to be a woman writing lit-dystopias. i have read oh-so-many post-apocalyptic novels, but mandel managed to show me something new. she writes a complicated, multivoiced story in the fragments we are allowed to see - the slices of experience from both before and after the cataclysm, where a dinner party scene is just as interesting and fraught with tension as anything from the early days of the disease, and there are so many unforgettable jewels of moments: jeevan and his wheelchair-bound brother trying to wait out the plague, a quarantined plane on the edge of the tarmac, the memory of oranges.

she has such a strong, wonderful voice and has created tender and sympathetic characters who may be deeply flawed, but are the very personification(s) of the stubbornness of humanity.

one of the things that surprised me is that more wasn't made of the king lear parallels. i mean arthur had three wives, lear had three daughters - and since there are so many references to shakespeare throughout, both overt and oblique (one of arthur's wives is named miranda, another is elizabeth(ian), one of the section titles is a midsummer night's dream, the georgia flu is somewhat analogous to the black plague of shakespeare's time) i feel like it would have given the novel another layer of ka-pow to have developed the theme even further. but no - one of arthur's wives doesn't even appear in the book except a brief mention that she existed. and - jeez - would it have killed mandel to have given v. a chapter??? you know we want to know more about that situation!!

but these are just minor quibbles over an incredibly intelligent and gripping novel. and we can still have a little fun with names here, exclusive of shakespeare - if we play a little free-association game with most-notably-named, "arthur leander" roughly translates into "king of tragic lovers." which is apt.

two quick notes: if you don't want a very popular four-year-old book that - yes, i know, i probably should have read already - spoiled for you, don't read the acknowledgments. because- yeah. oops. that was me.

and if the graphic novel that plays such an important role in this book is NOT picked up by someone and published as a companion book, it will be a huge missed opportunity. because we want it. bad.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
February 24, 2023
This book is so beautiful.

I am not even talking about the cover - although actually, let’s take a second to talk about the cover. LOOK AT THIS COVER! Are you seeing it? So lovely. So so pretty. Looooook aaaaaaattttt itttttttt.

Okay, now that we’ve done that.

This book is so beautiful.

I don’t know what I expected. I honestly don’t really know why I picked this up, besides the aforementioned pretty-cover thing. I’m not a huge sci-fi person. I’m definitely not a huge post-apocalyptic dystopian person. (We all lived through the time when YA just seemed like different iterations of the exact same dystopian plotline. Like, were there not at least two years in which every YA book was the Hunger Games and Divergent under a different title, but somehow increasingly bland? Anyway.)

I don’t know what tempted me to pick this up, but good golly am I glad I did. (And good golly am I sorry I just used the term “good golly.”)

Because, again, this book is so, so beautiful.

It’s gorgeously written. Every time I stumble across a beautifully written book, I feel so lucky about it. It’s hard to stumble upon truly lovely prose, and I certainly never expected it from an Apocalypse Book, but holy sh*t is it what I received. The writing is enchanting.

It’s also gorgeously characterized. There are a lot of characters in this book, many of whom are introduced all at once, and many of whom get very little coverage in the book. But somehow……..none of them feel flat. They’re not easy to confuse with one another. Somehow, without your noticing, this book will get you to care about a dozen or so people. (And they really feel like people.)

And its themes are gorgeous, too. I can’t imagine anyone coming out of this story and not feeling newly in love with life and with the world. Civilization just seems so wondrous after this. I looked at so many commonplace things in a whole new light.

This book is sad, and lovely, and exciting, and slow, and true, and earnest, and caring, and sweet, and cruel, and real, and above all it is so, so beautiful.

Bottom line: Everything about this is an unexpected gift.

i am Overwhelmed by Beauty and Meaning and Good Things and there is simply no way i can really rate this at this time, let alone review it.

review (& final rating) to come, when i've redeveloped some semblance of personhood

tbr review

honestly can't believe i've waited so long to read a book with a cover this pretty
Profile Image for chai ♡.
322 reviews156k followers
January 7, 2023
I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and now that I finally did, I feel the sort of acute disappointment that comes from wanting something for so long that the eventual achievement of it is a loss.

There are many things this book does well, but in the end I'm not sure Station Eleven was the book I really wanted it to be, though it was undeniably itself.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,223 followers
August 12, 2016
I wanted and expected to enjoy this novel more than I did. There’s much that’s gripping and clever but it was spoiled for me by a sloppiness in its construction, most notably an excess of half-baked and obfuscating characters. Was this novel rushed to cash in on the Hunger Games pandemic? At times it comes across as a novel written with heart but equally it can seem sketchy and only half imagined. Also should be said that it karaokes most other successful dystopian novels of recent times, most obviously, and by turns, Cloud Atlas, The Road, The Hunger Games and Dog Star.
Primary weakness of this novel is its characters. Too many and sometimes not only incidental to the story but clumsily obtrusive. The novel has as its fulcrum two events – a performance of King Lear immediately before the pandemic arrives, when Arthur Leander has a fatal heart attack on stage and a dinner party when Miranda, Arthur’s first wife and the creator of the Station Eleven comic, first realises her husband is betraying her. The most unwanted character in the book, Jeevan is present at both of these events, first as a paparazzo, then as a training paramedic. A preposterous coincidence (preparing us, in some way, for the tapestry of preposterous coincidences that follow and have to be accepted if the novel is going to work) that might have been a brilliant stroke of mischievous humour if Jeevan had any other role to play in the novel. But he doesn’t. Mandel simply uses him to dramatise the immediate aftermath of the epidemic. But she has half a dozen other characters who could easily have performed this function. In fact it would have given the Travelling Symphony more body had she used Kirsten here, the orchestra’s principle character. As it is the Symphony remains a sketched idea that flits in and out of the book with little more body than reflected light. Kirsten is another character who for me didn’t work at all. She seems like a photocopy of the heroine of The Hunger Games – never even remotely convincing as a warrior child with her knife throwing expertise. Conveniently we’re not told what happened to her to justify her transition from innocent child to stalker/warrior.
Everyone in the novel is a custodian – another example of characters with cloned purposes. Kirsten is the custodian of the Station Eleven comic but so too is Arthur’s son; Arthur’s son is also the custodian of religious fervour, Arthur’s best friend is the custodian of the novel’s museum, the Travelling Symphony is the custodian of culture and another pointless character called Francois starts a newspaper and so becomes the custodian of the written word (the interviews with Kirsten don’t work at all except to make the Cloud Atlas shoplifting more apparent) So everyone’s representing something and as a result, with the exception of Miranda, the creator and, to a lesser extent, Arthur, the actor, don’t ever come alive in their own right.

Triumphs: Mandel, in essence, is an admirable storyteller. And the fluid shape of the novel is great. Its flashbacking roving archaeological momentum almost like the act of nostalgia itself – the novel is obsessively nostalgic, most successfully through the imagery of the comics, least successfully when nostalgia is constantly the subject of conversation.
Best character by a country mile is the Station Eleven comic and its creator Miranda. The comic book is cleverly used as a kind of portal between the before and after – and here the nostalgia theme is at its most poignant. Whenever the comic was the novel’s focal point it really held my interest. Shame that it was cluttered with so many other cloned and conflicting narratives. I couldn’t help feeling, if only someone had prompted Mandel to do one final draft. Hew the thing into a more polished form and think out some of the elements that weren’t thoroughly thought out. As commercial storytelling it’s a good novel, as literature it doesn’t cut it for me. More a collection of catchy pop songs than a moving cello sonata.
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
September 12, 2022
Station Eleven is a work of literary fiction. The fact that half of it is set in a post apocalyptic future doesn't change this.

The book is a study of lives before and after the end of the world (a flu strain wipes almost everyone out in short order - quite reminiscent of The Stand in that, but the characters here are far less colourful, there's nothing supernatural going on, and the actual days of dying are very much off screen).

There's very little action, tension, or intrigue in this novel but it is beautifully written, observed with a gentle but penetrating eye, and made me want to keep reading.

We see the life and loves of a fading film star who dies on the day the world's end begins. We see, in a nonlinear manner, how some of the people connected with him - some intimately, some tangentially - survive on into a very different existence.

We move from a world in which one of the actor's wives has the leisure to spend a decade or more writing and illustrating a set of beautifully imagined science fiction comics that only ten copies are ever made of, to an existence without medicine, painkillers, transport or power. The world of Station Eleven shown in her illustrated story has thematic parallels to the world of our survivors, some of whom tour the shattered USA with a travelling symphony and staging Shakespeare plays.

The legend "Survival is insufficient", lifted from Star Trek, is on the lead wagon of the travelling symphony and gives us the thrust of the book. How do we survive a cataclysm, how do we survive in the memories of those who knew us, how do our actions, our creations, our wrongs and rights, carry on into the future without us?

It's a beautiful book, and there is in the post apocalyptic thread some measure of threat and intrigue though it is really not the focus or the point of the story.

I think the world shown to us is driven more by thematic desires rather than a realistic assessment of the consequences of a swift 99.999% depopulation that leaves the infrastructure in place. I feel that power and manufacturing and transport would return fairly swiftly on a modest scale after such an event. But that's nitpicking.

I enjoyed this read a lot. It's subtle, seemingly low impact, but the images it put in my head will stay with me.

Recommended. But come in with your eyes open. It didn't set my heart racing. I wasn't in love with the characters. I wasn't sad when they died or happy when they didn't, but my reading brain was thoroughly engaged.

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Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
434 reviews4,255 followers
September 16, 2023
Can Emily St. John Mandel Predict The Future?

Station Eleven was published in 2014 (long before coronavirus), but it is about a pandemic. In Station Eleven, there is a deadly Georgia Flu which devastates the world’s population and results in a global collapse.

What’s not to love? Station Eleven is set in Michigan, and I have a lot of love for my Mitten State.

This book is absolutely eerie to know that it was published in 2014, but so many of the things mentioned in the book actually happened in real life.

One question that appeared in the book is what would the world look like now if there wasn’t a pandemic?

At first, I was quite sad because I know that so many people died from coronavirus.

But will the world ever be the same again?

Nope, I think not.

One small thing that I learned in the pandemic is to wear my pink watch. Normally, working in accounting, which is a very conservative field, I would dare to only wear black, possibly grey if I was being bold. But this pink watch makes me happy every single time I look at it. And you know what? I’m not going to stop wearing my pink watch. Life is too short not to be authentic to myself.

Aside from pink watches, there have been other changes for the positive. After the pandemic, I am much more hesitant to sign up for activities. My calendar is closely guarded. Instead of running around like a crazy person, my peace is prioritized.

Also, remote work or work from home has expanded. In my field, if you wanted some flexibility, you could expect a 60% pay cut. Now, people can work from home without such a steep penalty. In fact, some people are able to obtain new, remote jobs for even higher wages.

Will we still remember The Great Toilet Paper Shortage? Yep. Station Eleven even had the hording at grocery stores!

So what is your pink watch?

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Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,309 followers
December 9, 2017
Until I someday write a longer review (you never know, it could happen), I’ll just say this: I sat down intending to read about 50 pages tonight and wound up reading 200. I also completely forgot the world around me existed for a few hours, and that is the highest praise I can personally give any book.
Profile Image for Carol.
835 reviews499 followers
December 24, 2020
I don't know why it bothers me so that I thought this book was just ok. So many of my GR friends have embraced this Station Eleven and have shouted its praises from the rooftop. I struggled through the first 80 pages, didn't want to throw it under the couch, but wasn't finding myself engaged. Perhaps I should have quit while I was ahead but stubborn that I am, I carried on. It never really got better for me but I did finish. At least I won't feel left out.

Shakespeare is dead and I prefer him to remain so. That could have been part of my problem. The only character I really liked was Miranda. I love stories about pandemics but was surprised that I wasn't cheering for these characters to survive. The Traveling Symphony was a unique tool but never captured my fancy.

I certainly can't fault the writing. Creative? Perhaps. I have been as positive as I can be in regards to my feelings about Station Eleven.

Would I try another of Mandel's books? Maybe.

Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,545 followers
December 23, 2020
I enjoyed this book a lot, especially as it is different than other dystopia novels that I’ve read.

The most interesting fact about the book is the non-linear structure. It starts with the death of a famous actor while playing King Lear in a Toronto theater. In the same night, the end of the world comes, this time disguised as a flu that wipes out 99% of human population.

The next part introduces us to the Symphony, a traveling theater company that plays Shakespeare in the remaining human settlements, more than 20 years after the end of the world. One of the actresses in the walking theater was a child actress in the King Lear play. After that, the author turns back in time when the actor meets his first wife and then we come back to the post- apocalypse timeline to other character. I admire the creativity of this constant coming and going through time, before and after day one of the Apocalypse and all the background stories. The core of the novel is the actor who dies at the beginning of the story and the people he touched during his life.

There are three main themes that I could identify in the book:
1. „Survival is insufficient” is the motto written on the first caravan of the travelling theater. People are trying to find meaning in their lives besides the everyday struggle for survival in the apocalyptic setting. They do it thorough music, theater, religion, museum of memorabilia , the collecting of different objects of the past etc.
2. Every person touches the life of other people and leaves a mark in the universe. I guess this theme touched me the most and distinguished Station Eleven from other dystopian books. I loved how every character was somehow connected with the actor or with other people from his life and how everything was revealed gradually and through flashbacks, like a puzzle.
3. The survival. This is the part that had the least importance in the book. Maybe because the author gave less thought to the practical aspects of survival some parts of the narration seem unrealistic. I was annoyed a couple of times by the decisions of the characters.
An example: „He somehow hadn't thought much about what it would be like to sleep out here, unprotected. He was cold. He could no longer feel his toes, or his tongue either, because he'd been putting snow in his mouth to stay hydrated. ”
Let’s ignore the fact that the character eats snow without boiling it which is very dangerous as snow is full of bacteria and people are known to have died from doing that. After weeks (or months) spent in his brother’s apartment he finally decides to leave Toronto and go south to USA. What I do not understand is that he plans about leaving for weeks but he somehow does not think about the cold weather. He could have just broken in a mountaineering store on Yonge Street and grabed all the equipment he needed. 99% of the world population was gone so chances were that nobody would have stopped him. Moreover, I did not understand why people left the cities. Cities had more resources for food and other necessities than other places, especially at the beginning, but everybody seemed to run from them. One of the reasons stated was violence but the reason does not seem enough for me. Finally, I could not grasp why people chose to live in gas stations or in McDonalds restaurants when the survivors could inhabit any house they wanted as most of them were empty. This detail was incomprehensible to me.

P.S. Throughout the book the author refers to different other books about Apocalypse. I wonder if, when she wrote the following quote, she thought of The Road by Cormack McCarthy: „her brother had been plagued by nightmare. "the road", he'd always said, when she shook me awake and asked what he'd been dreaming of. he'd said, "I hope you never remember it"
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book937 followers
November 10, 2021
Station Eleven is a rather difficult book to shelve in a given genre. It’s been marketed as post-apocalyptic science fiction (which it is!). Still, it doesn’t have the feel of a disaster novel: the cause of the fall of human civilisation as it is is an invisible one (a deadly pandemic), and the consequences are described from afar — far in the future, far in the distance, in the fantastic chapters that take place in a remote airport. St. John Mandel’s book does, however, bear some resemblance to Stephen King’s The Stand, but in a much shorter and bittersweet format.

The structure is that of a jigsaw puzzle, with scenes varying in place and time between a theatre where King Lear is being staged, a corporate office where a lonely executive assistant is drawing a series of S.F. graphic novels titled Station Eleven, an open range with a Shakespearean travelling troupe and a group of menacing zealots, an airport that is gradually turning into a museum, a newspaper interview...

What connects everything is, of course, Shakespeare and Station Eleven (the graphic novel within the novel), but more essentially the characters: Kirsten, Arthur, Clark (wink to Arthur Clarke?), Jeevan, Elizabeth, Tyler, Miranda (an obvious reference to The Tempest, and also an alter ego of the author within the novel)... Each one carries a specific point of view on the events that have ended civilisation. All of them, ultimately, are exiled, and all bear the same elegiac yearning for a world that has been lost. The world we live in now, the world we sometimes hate, our fragile world. All, in their own way, speak Dr Eleven’s words: “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth ”.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
December 30, 2014
Surprised by how much I enjoyed this book because I am a bit burnt out on post apocalyptic fiction. Well written, intricately plotted. The ending falters a bit, awash in an overreach for poignancy. I know how I definitely don't want to die and that is on a quarantined airplane on a tarmac in Northern Michigan, with a bunch of other plague-ridden folk. Stuff of nightmares. Also, I struggled to believe there would be a major international airport with three concourses in northern Michigan. I've lived there. The airports are tiny. Cathay Pacific isn't flying there. BUT this is fiction so that doesn't really matter. It just kept driving me crazy. But again, great novel overall.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
March 2, 2022
This was so good, I started reading it at like 11 pm the other night because I just wanted to read a little before going to sleep and ended up staying up until 6 am to finish it. I really like the way the story unfolds and the way everything is connected, I'm a sucker for threads coming together in a story and like following characters who come into contact with on another and how their different story lines end up. Not sure about that ending though, but I guess I also tend to not find most endings to be very compelling. I think there's just something about ending things and having to reveal what happened that comes into tension with the process of building anticipation through out the book and how hard it can be to live up to that anticipation. Also side note I too am on the tail end of my Venlafaxine withdrawal right now so that part made me feel very seen. It does indeed suck and I did feel like I was dying. It wasn't as bad this time because I had been taking with another drug to mitigate side effects but just taking it alone is garbage. Not sure if this is TMI but that's what was on my mind while reading. Also someone should recreate the comic from the book because I would love to read that it sounded pretty cool.

Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.7k followers
October 20, 2015
To survive is painful.

So is trying to get through this book! There has been a ton of hype surrounding Station Eleven and nothing but rave reviews. Someone please explain it to me because I just don’t get it. I wish, I had embarked on the same journey as those readers, but it was like slow torture instead. Boring beyond belief, with a cast of unlikeable characters and a plot that was all over the place.

I wasn't impressed with the author's writing either, as most people seem to be. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that I would be rewarded with an ending that tied all of the weirdness together in an interesting way. That’s not what happened though.

If you start this book and don’t enjoy it immediately, I would move on. It doesn’t get any better.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
September 3, 2019
An exceptionally well rendered portrait of Elvis on a magnificent black velvet background.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel is the "Velvet Elvis" of post-apocalyptic books, a surprisingly different form than usual with a style all its own.

“Post-apocalyptic literary science fiction” was one way I have heard it described, and also “pastoral science fiction” and I here adopt both descriptions. Mandel has certainly softened the Mad Max edges off her story and provided a ponderous, meandering and thoughtful account of a world with a lot less people.

Telling the story before and after a global pandemic, many readers will liken this to Stephen King’s 1978 classic The Stand, as here the culprit is the Georgian flu which kills in hours not days. Mandel’s prose is in tone and structure like Jennifer Egan’s award winning 2010 novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. We visit 20 years after the collapse and then relive moments years before and then contemporaneous with the global spread of the disease. I was also reminded of Bradbury’s “There will come soft rains” with it’s quiet, somber reflections and recollections of the time before. Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney is another book that I would categorize Station Eleven with – a softer, gentler and kinder vision of a world after catastrophe.

“Because survival is insufficient” – an old Star Trek slogan sums up this work. Mandel portrays her survivors as yearning to keep the flame of civilization lit. We follow Miranda, the Station Eleven graphic novel artist and the graphic novel that survives the apocalypse. Also, Arthur Leander, an actor who plays King Lear just before the pandemic. Finally, Mandel introduces a troupe of actors and musicians traveling from town to town after the “collapse” performing symphonies and Shakespeare.

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Mandel poses existential questions about living where only weeks before the pandemic people were worried about meaningless, inconsequential things and only minimally connected to the world around them. Station Eleven, named after the graphic novel which had a very limited production and was drawn not for commercial success but for the sake of the art, is an examination of our culture in eulogy.

One of the central characters, Clark, forms a museum of civilization in an abandoned airport and preserves relics of what the people of the new world should try to remember of the past, only recently departed.

A very good book that I highly recommend.

Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
September 24, 2020
An eclectic, always wondrous literary feast, with a generous dispersal of savory anecdotes, attitudes & (grand) themes. It has all the BEST features of previous apocalyterature & road stories (the pale terror of McCarthy's "The Road", the joie de vivre/bonhomie of the band of outsiders in "The Wizard of Oz," the irresistible speed & power of "Mad Max: Fury Road")-- it all adds up to something as interesting & bizarre as David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas."

"Station Eleven" is a novel that's so full of life. It desists from stumbling upon any number of apocalyptic themes--it wants to not be what it is. It chooses humanity over annihilation is such a sickeningly awesome way. Think of an overturned smashed aquarium--giant goldfish gulping for oxygen, pebbly mountains powerfully toppled--& with a nifty literary microscope describe all the lives of those depleting but ever-persistent microbes that struggle for their chance at existence.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 46 books128k followers
May 12, 2015
This was a lovely, elevated apocalypse story that was very touching. The integration of acting and Hollywood world was really interesting, I'm sure even moreso to someone who isn't in "the biz." If you want a dose of great storytelling with your post-disaster wasteland fiction, this is a book for you!
Profile Image for Petrik.
688 reviews46.1k followers
March 31, 2018
Milestone achieved = Review #200 within one year six months of joining Goodreads!

Thought-provoking, haunting, and atmospheric.

Station Eleven is an adult post apocalyptic/dystopian novel written by Emily St. John Mandel and I’m actually quite surprised by how enjoyable it was, especially considering that I bought this book on a whim two days ago without knowing anything about it whatsoever. Those who followed my reviews should know by now that SFF is my number one favorite genre to read, that’s why I always find it strange how the great standalone always came from genres I don't usually read, like this book.

Picture: Station Eleven by Vincent Chong

I won’t be talking about the plot at all, if you want to know what’s the premise of the book is about, the blurb of the book did a great job of explaining without spoiling anything, a rare case I know. Before you start reading this book, I need to remind you that this book is slow paced and highly characters driven. These characters will matter a lot in deciding your enjoyment of this book and this is in my opinion, the most important factors in this book; pretty much any book I read really, well-written characters will always be the priority. Luckily for me, although it didn’t happen immediately, I did end up enjoying all the characters’ POV by the halfway point of this book. Not only were the characters written realistically, reading how they cope with the new world and how all these characters story-line converged were compelling. This is a slow paced book and even though it’s a post-apocalyptic book, the majority of the story-line centered pretty much on the characters’ lives before and after the collapse of civilization. However, do know that it is really rewarding to read it to the last quarter of the book. At first, it may seem like the character’s story were disjointed, but believe me, every character's POV were important. Mandel took me by surprise with her talent in seamlessly connecting all the plot and characters, bringing a great style of storytelling in this atmospheric piece of work.

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

Parts of what made this book unique and different from other post-apocalyptic story is the positive messages that the author conveyed. Don’t get me wrong, the setting is bleak but I can’t help but feel peaceful reading it. In the video game, The Last of Us, there is a lot of walking around, scavenging stuff, and there was this moment where the characters found a herd of giraffes; that simple moment was one of the most beautiful moments of the game. This book has that sense of atmosphere, both the bleak and the beautiful part. The literal meaning of darkness can’t exist without light, same as how despair can’t exist without hope, and even in the darkest of times, hope will always find a way to prevail one way or another. This book gave a feeling of melancholy and at the same time, grateful. It’s poignant at times but evocatively joyful. Focusing on humanities, perseverance of art, I love how the author tells a story that centered on finding hope in the hardest of times; even after the collapse of civilization, humanity will somehow find a way to survive, for better or worse. This book also serves as a reminder that we MUST do something for this world other than merely surviving. There was one passage about ‘sleepwalking’ through life in particular that in my opinion will resonate with a lot of readers who still have no idea what they’re doing with their life, especially in jobs; at least that’s how it felt for me.

“Survival is insufficient.”

Mandel’s prose was seductively simple and beautiful, making this book something that’s worth a read when you’re in need of a wake up call or some positivity in harsh times. The only minor issues I had with the book is there were a few moments in the beginning after the outbreak that were a bit boring and I thought the ending could've been much more satisfying; it ended in a way that made this book doesn't feel like a standalone.

This is pretty much all I can say about the book without spoiling anything. It’s a short read—only a bit more than 300 pages long, and it's really worth your time. Station Eleven have won an incredible amount of awards and I’ll concur that they are quite well deserved.

I would like to say thank you to everyone who always like, comment, and read my review! You guys make reviewing book even more fun! :)

You can find this and the rest of my Adult Epic/High Fantasy & Sci-Fi reviews at BookNest
Profile Image for Jill.
1,189 reviews1,690 followers
May 31, 2016
It’s no accident that Emily St. John Mandel opens her haunting new novel with a scene from King Lear, who ends up mad and blind but clear as a bell. One of that play’s memorable lines is: “The oldest hath borne most; we that are young/Shall never see so much nor live so long.”

Indeed, there is a divide between those who have borne much and those who will never see so much. In the opening pages, renowned actor Arthur Leander dies while performing King Lear. Before the week is out, the vast majority of the audience – indeed, the world – will be dead from the pandemic Georgia flu.

There are two key story lines – one before the end of civilization and one after it. The first focuses on Arthur, along with his three ex-wives, best friend Clark, and Jeevan, a one-time paparazzo and good Samaritan, who tries to save him. The other line centers on Kirstin, a young girl who witnessed Arthur’s death, who is now part of a Traveling Symphony, a musical theatre troupe that roams the wasted land to bring music and Shakespeare to the limited number of people who remain…not unlike original Shakespeare actors during plague-filled days of the past.

Woven into these tales is the inspiration for the book’s title. Arthur’s first wife, Miranda (likely based on the character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, who utters, “O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”) She is the writer and designer of a sci-fi graphic comic, with threads of what eventually happens on earth: “There are people who, after fifteen years of perpetual twilight, long only to go home, to return to Earth and beg for amnesty; to take their chances under alien rule. They live in the Undersea, an interlined network of vast fallout shelters under Station Eleven’s oceans.”

Station Eleven is a terrifying, haunting, and stunning book that speaks eloquently on many key themes: survival during devastating times, our ephemeral existence and the fleeting nature of fame compared to the endurance of art. Indeed, it is only our shared stories – from Shakespeare to graphic books – that ties us all together, connects us and makes us human.

After turning the last page, I sat completely still for a minute, stunned, before taking my dogs out. While outside, I was driven to tears by the beauty of the fireflies lighting up against a dark Chicago night. Station Eleven – in many ways, a psalm of appreciation for the simple things in our current existence – wields THAT sort of power. It’s an amazing book and is highly recommended.

Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
February 26, 2023
“What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”

There’s a fragile, evocative beauty in what is lost to you forever; things that once seemed so omnipresent and permanent and yet slipped away, ”gradually, and then suddenly.” The fragile beauty of the world and people and the smallest things, and the bittersweet memories of what once was. The watershed between “before” and “after”, the time when everything can never go back to how it used to be.

“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.”

There’s something magical about this book, something that I can’t quite put in words. It’s the case of the whole being greater than just the sum of the parts. Viewed separately, it’s a combination of a post-apocalyptic story of the world nearly wiped out by a pandemic and a literary fiction about the life of an actor whose death opens the story and people whose lives intersected his, with the web of connections between people and musings on the nature of memory, fame and meaning of life, responsibility, and the choices we make.

And yet that’s not quite enough, that’s still somehow reductive.

“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.”

It’s a messy and mean world we live in, full of “high-functioning sleepwalkers”, the overcrowded rat race, but it’s still wondrous, full of everyday miracles we take for granted (hot showers; air conditioning; telephones; airplanes; internet; antibiotics; dentistry; books) and people whose absence leaves a part of us missing, too. Something new can be borne out of complete collapse, but what about the things you can never get back?

“If you are the light,” she said, “then your enemies are darkness, right?”
“I suppose.”
“If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there’s nothing that you cannot justify. There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do.”

There should have been many reasons why this book should have left me annoyed at times, me - the SFF reading veteran, and yet I couldn’t put it down, floating in the thoughtful magic Emily St. John Mandel creates with words and imagery, dazedly surfacing from it when real life intervened, almost drunk on loss and bittersweet hope and the weird tangled web of connections that make life what it is.

“We traveled so far and your friendship meant everything. It was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty. Everything ends. I am not afraid.”

Marvelous, haunting and thoughtful. 5 stars.

Buddy read with Dennis, who’s got an amazing case of book hangover from this book and loved it perhaps even more than I have. Thanks for another amazing read, my friend.

“Survival is insufficient.”


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
547 reviews34.7k followers
February 11, 2019
”What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Jeevan. That’s the short answer. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s a flu, that much is obvious, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It is so fast. It just seems to spread so quickly –“

This is one of the rare times I’m actually searching for the right words and if you know me, you know that this doesn’t happen all too often. *lol* To describe this book is kind of hard though so bear with me when I don’t always manage to convey my thoughts and feelings. It’s not easy with a book like “Station Eleven” because it’s so unlike any other post-apocalyptic book I ever read.

Sure, it begins with the Georgia Flu that wipes out about 90% of humankind, but unlike other books it doesn’t focus on the illness, but rather on the lives of the few people who survived it. AND it centres on the life of Arthur Leander, an actor who died on stage shortly before the flu broke out.

”This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air.”

The narration of this book is kind of complicated because it doesn’t only jump between different POVs but also alternates between different timelines. There’s the one after the Georgia flu and there’s the one before the flu. The one that tells the story of a man who lives in our modern world. A world with electricity, running water, i-phones, divorces and tv screens, a world with medicine and airplanes. A world in which everything is still possible and in which everyone takes everything for granted.

”What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”

This sentence stuck with me, because it explains the book and the characters that live in it so well. If you lived in our world, if you were a child and got a taste of it, you remember what it used to be and how easy everything was. Can you imagine a world without the internet? Without flushing toilets and electricity? Without supermarkets that provide you with food? Well, once you know this comfort it’s kind of hard to live without it. Believe me and take the word of a person who’s been at plenty of music festivals that went on for four days and nights. *lol* I know what I’m talking about. ;-P

”Beneath the fury was something literally unspeakable, the television news carrying an implication that no one could yet bring themselves to consider. It was possible to comprehend the scope of the outbreak, but it wasn’t possible to comprehend what it meant.”

This book is not about the Georgia flu and it’s outbreak, no, it’s about people and their lives before and after “the unspeakable” happened. There are items that connect those people throughout the course of those years and I really loved that aspect of the book. It gave me comfort, it gave me hope. Just to know that the past wasn’t forgotten, that a simple paperweight and the “Station Eleven” comic books survived and were passed on. That some of those characters actually remembered!

”First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

Kirsten Raymond, Jeevan, Arthur Leander, Miranda, Elizabeth, Clarke and Tyler. They are all connected with each other, they just don’t know it. Their lives are interwoven, in the past, the present and the future and no matter if they are unaware of it or not, a little part of them continues to live on. The experiences they made, the past they shared, the effects of it on their future, it’s one big cycle and it’s their story to tell…

“Station Eleven” is an intricate and interwoven piece of literature that makes you not only think about the things you lost and left behind but also inevitably forces you to gaze at everything that lies in the future ahead of you. It gives you hope and when everything is said and done, when your world turns dark and lonely, it’s exactly this kind of hope that helps you to carry on.

"Survival is insufficient."
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,331 followers
January 26, 2022
Reread January 2022:

After not entirely clicking with Emily St. John Mandel's follow up, The Glass Hotel, nor the HBO limited series adaptation of Station Eleven, I was starting to wonder if I really loved this novel as much as I thought I did. I decided to listen to the audiobook to see if it would hold up as the "modern masterpiece" I've claimed it to be.

It does. In my eyes, Station Eleven (the book) is simply brilliant.

Original December 2014 review:

This engrossing story shoots right off page one with a bullet. The kind of book where you accidentally glance at the page number and can't believe you're already at page 50. It brought out the English major in me, looking for all the interwoven threads and symbolism. A modern masterpiece. (Bit of advice - don't read the book jacket summary. I never do until after I've finished the book, and I found this one to be offensively spoilerish.)
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,974 followers
December 23, 2020
This is one well written apocalypse.

Arthur Leander is a famous actor who suffers a heart attack and dies on stage just before a deadly version of the swine flu kills most of humanity. Station Eleven then uses Arthur as the center of a web of connections that we learn from the people in his life before, during and after the disease wipes out the world as we know it. Kirsten sees Arthur die as a child actor, and years later she’s part of the Traveling Symphony that tours the small towns of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Jeevan is an ex-paparazzo turned paramedic who once stalked Arthur, but he is in the audience when the actor keels over and tries to save his life. Miranda is Arthur’s first wife who could never adjust to the spotlight his fame brought and wrote a comic book about a space station as a hobby. Clark was one of Arthur’s best friends who gets stranded far from home when things really start to fall apart.

The thing that astonishes me most about his is just how deftly Emily St. John Mandel portrays the end of the world. There’s no shortage of post-apocalyptic scenarios out there, but whether the culprits are zombies or nuclear weapons or killer viruses the aftermath is generally as brutal as an ax blow to the face. Mandel writes with such an understated elegance that there’s a dark beauty and grace to her fallen world even as she acknowledges all the hardship and horrors of it.

She also does a masterful job of managing the structure with its shifting third party perspectives at various times. All the links and coincidences could have felt very forced and ultimately pointless, but again it’s her skill at making us interested in all of these people at their various stages of pre and post apocalypse that make it all work so that the connections feel organic and not simply plot points.

While the post-apocalyptic world seems believable for the most part there are some quibbles I could make. Mandel writes this as if a flu with a near 100% mortality rate would essentially wipe out all the accumulated knowledge and technical ability of the survivors and takes everyone back to an almost medieval way of life.

It’s weird that everything has been so ransacked just fifteen years later because the math doesn’t seem right there. If 99% of the US died within days so that there was no prolonged destructive cycle to use up resources, that'd be roughly 3 million people left in a country that had all the crap that 300 million people accumulated. Yet, Kristen is amazed to find a house in the woods that had not been searched where she finds a dress to replace hers that is worn out. Or guns and ammo are portrayed as being increasingly rare even though America has enough guns that each survivor could have about 1000 each. Books also seem to be in short supply as if the libraries were also killed by the flu.

So those would be some serious flaws in the premise if you were judging this solely on criteria like world building (Or world destroying.) and plausibility, but it didn’t lower my opinion much because this just isn’t that kind of book. It’s more interested at exploring human connections as well as providing a reminder that we’re living in an age of unappreciated wonders that is a lot more fragile than we want to admit, and at that Mandel succeeds exceedingly well.
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2,555 reviews35.6k followers
November 16, 2022
‘we travelled so far and your friendship meant everything. it was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty. everything ends. i am not afraid.’

wow wow wow. this book. this is quite unlike any other post-apocalyptic story i have ever read before. this doesnt focus on the flu that eradicated 99% of earths population. this doesnt go into detail about the origin of the disease or the worldwide attempt to contain it. the purpose of the book isnt to explore the collapse of the world as we know it. this is a very simple story about people and their resilience.

this is, almost exclusively, a character driven story. but what makes this book so unique is how each character is connected. all strangers at one point, and at other times not, this story perfectly portrays the interconnectivity of humanity and the lengths people will go to retain that connection. this story shows that mere ‘survival is insufficient’ - its finding the meaning in life that makes each day liveable. because without the choices we make to define ourselves in a time that seems like the end, without living with meaning, are we even human? its thoughts and ideas like these that this book so beautifully presents.

so if you are looking for an unhurried, but captivating, story about the quiet strength of people, this is the only book you will ever need.

4 stars
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