Sara's Reviews > Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: post-apocalyptic, eyeopeners, speculative-fiction, prose-love, multiple-povs
Read 2 times. Last read April 4, 2017 to April 10, 2017.

Actual Rating: 4.5 out of 5

STATION ELEVEN had been a book I was curious about when it was first published, but not one I was dead-set on reading. Then I heard Emily. St. John Mandel give the closing keynote at Writer's Digest Conference last year (2016), and I was so impressed by her intelligence and gently thought-provoking nature that I decided to give this book a chance.

And... Wow. Sometimes I wonder if I sound like a broken record from the number of times I've said "I'm so glad I gave [insert book title] a chance" here on Goodreads. But with STATION ELEVEN, I truly mean it.

STATION ELEVEN begins with the esteemed actor Arthur Leander dying onstage during a performance of the play King Lear. That same night, a swine-flu-like epidemic breaks out and kills 99% of the Earth's population. The story then moves back and forth in time and around the globe, showing the multiple twists of fate that connect Arthur, his first wife Miranda, Arthur's oldest friend Clark, a former paparazzo-turned-journalist-turned-paramedic who tries to save Arthur, and a young actress who knew Arthur when she was a child and, 20 years after the epidemic, is part of a theatre troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. We see the early days of Arthur's acting career, the unraveling of his marriage with Miranda, Arthur's eventual disillusionment with his fame, the days immediately following the flu outbreak, and the wasteland that the world has become two decades later - and how desperate the struggle can become when a violent prophet threatens the Symphony's existence.

It's really difficult to describe STATION ELEVEN in greater detail or in a more linear fashion. Because a) this would be a really long review in the end, and b) the story simply isn't told in a chronological manner. That latter part is one of the book's strengths. Maybe you'll figure out the connections between characters before the end, but the way in which the pieces fall gives the story more gravity and poignancy. I finished STATION ELEVEN during a recent flight home from Iceland, and was actually reading the last few chapters as the plane made its descent toward my local airport. (Which was a bit ironic, given the significance of planes and airports in this book!) And somehow that feeling of landing heightened how moving the ending was.

It's also difficult to describe what impressed most about STATION ELEVEN. ESJM's prose is certainly a highlight. Though long-winded at times, it walks readers through different stages of each character's life with effortless, enviable grace. The themes in this book give you much to ponder after the fact, too: the pitfalls of fame, the conscious and unconscious ways of building one's legacy, love and family of all kinds, and remembering to see the beauty in the world despite the hell you're enduring.

But if I was forced to choose one thing about STATION ELEVEN that truly left me staggered, it was ESJM's vision of the post-flu world. Sure, there's the lack of electricity, impossibility of telecommunications, and constant nudge in the back of your brain that your death might be around the corner. But there's also the survivors' resourcefulness and courage, their nostalgia of the pre-flu world (or, in some cases, how little some recall of life before then), and the glimmers of hope for their future. That vividly detailed imagining - or "worldbuilding," for lack of a better word - made their circumstances frighteningly realistic, to the point that I sometimes found myself thinking, "That could really happen one day."

So, I'm not just glad that I read STATION ELEVEN. I'm grateful that I read it. It's still haunting me days after I finished it, much like how Corman McCarthy's THE ROAD did. And both are post-apocalyptic stories. Coincidence? I don't think so.

FYI: I've heard some people have described STATION ELEVEN as "science fiction" or "time travel." I don't agree with the "time travel" bit. ESJM's narration switches between different points before, during, and after the outbreak, but no characters actually travel through history or into the future. As for the sci-fi bit... that might depend on the reader's definition of sci-fi. I'd say it's on the light end of the science, as it focuses more on the characters, their relationships, and their individual struggles. But it's definitely post-apocalyptic and, in a sense, speculative fiction in that it depicts what life could be like on our planet if such an epidemic happened.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 14, 2016 – Shelved
August 14, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
April 4, 2017 – Started Reading
April 10, 2017 – Finished Reading
April 14, 2017 – Shelved as: post-apocalyptic
April 14, 2017 – Shelved as: eyeopeners
April 14, 2017 – Shelved as: speculative-fiction
April 14, 2017 – Shelved as: prose-love
April 14, 2017 – Shelved as: multiple-povs

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Zama l've bought the book recently because l've heard so many good things about it. Happy to hear you liked it too :)


Sara Sarah wrote: "l've bought the book recently because l've heard so many good things about it. Happy to hear you liked it too :)"

Good choice. ;) I hope you enjoy it as well!


message 3: by Cristina (new)

Cristina Guarino Aaaah so glad you like it! I got it at BookCon a few years ago and it's been on my to-read shelf ever since. It's actually on my list to finally read this year!


message 4: by D.A. (new) - added it

D.A. Brown Ooh, this sounds right up my alley after endless meetings on pandemic preparation...;-)


Sara Cristina wrote: "Aaaah so glad you like it! I got it at BookCon a few years ago and it's been on my to-read shelf ever since. It's actually on my list to finally read this year!"

Yes! Do it! :D Hope you enjoy it!


Sara Dorothyanne wrote: "Ooh, this sounds right up my alley after endless meetings on pandemic preparation...;-)"

^^ That sounds a bit scary...


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