David's Reviews > Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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really liked it
bookshelves: female-author, female-protagonist, audiobook, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction
Recommended for: Graphic novelists, ex-wives of Hollywood actors, Shakespearean theater performers, prophets

Stephen King's The Stand is one of my favorite books, so a novel about a flu that wipes out civilization is of course going to remind me of that and make me wonder how much the author was inspired by it as I read it. Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a much softer apocalypse, however, touching only lightly on the horrors and violence of the collapse, and while there is an evil prophet with a sinister band of followers, they aren't that sinister or that threatening, and the final confrontation is not an epic battle of Good vs. Evil, but two bands of people driven by different motivations, and one group walks away.

The story of the Traveling Symphony, which travels from town to town in the years following a flu that wiped out 99% of the population and performs Shakespeare for the survivors, is one of trying to bring back civilization, or at least keep a memory of it alive long enough for their descendants to rebuild and reach a point where survival isn't all that matters. Hence the line from Star Trek, featuring repeatedly in this novel, as it is tattooed on one character's arm: "Survival is insufficient."

Station Eleven is full of pop culture references like that. The linking thread is a Hollywood actor, Arthur Leander, who died before the deadly flu even hit, but as the story skips back and forth from past to present, we go through Arthur's life, his multiple marriages, his ascent from a small-town boy from an island in British Columbia to Hollywood's A-List, and finally his death on-stage performing King Lear, only to learn of the connections between him, the Traveling Symphony, and the Prophet, many years later.

This is a literary post-apocalyptic novel, more about characters and connections and memory and how people get by in whatever circumstances life throws at them, than a survival story per se. There are actually few truly evil characters in the book - marauding bands of raiders and despotic warlords are only mentioned in passing as something that might have happened elsewhere. We see little of what has become of the world outside the route the Traveling Symphony takes through what was once the American Midwest.

It's a good story, but really a story about interconnected human relationships with an apocalyptic flu as the framing device. So it's an unusual post-apocalyptic story, but no less interesting because of that, though perhaps a little less exciting. The closest comparison I can think of it not actually The Stand, but David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Station Eleven is not as creative as Cloud Atlas, but it has that same sense of wrapping an ultimately uplifting story about humanity inside a science fictional narrative.
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Reading Progress

February 17, 2018 – Started Reading
February 17, 2018 – Shelved
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: female-author
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: female-protagonist
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: audiobook
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: post-apocalyptic
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: science-fiction
February 17, 2018 – Finished Reading

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