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Station Eleven
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ARCHIVE 2015 > Station Eleven: Reviews by 2015 Reading Challengers

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Jodi (readinbooks) | 1922 comments Tell us what you thought of the book! You can leave your review here. Even if you read the book outside of the group, please feel free to let us know what you thought of it.

Please make sure to mark your spoilers by typing "[spoiler]" at the start and [/spoiler] at the end but replacing the []s with <>s.

message 2: by Kara (last edited Jan 25, 2015 05:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kara (karaayako) | 3977 comments I read in November of last year, and it was my favorite book read in 2014. I've reread it since then too, and my estimation of it only grew.

Five enthusiastic stars from me.

I loved every single page of this book.

The story jumps around quite a bit: there are flashbacks and you hear the main characters' stories in chunks. We start the night before the apocalypse (which comes, of course, in the form of a virulent disease) but we go years ahead and years back. This is much more about the characters than about an apocalypse or survival.

This is about artistic passion and relationships and family dynamics and belonging and cults and Shakespeare. It's only a LITTLE bit about an apocalypse and its aftermath.

message 3: by Cary (new) - added it

Cary Ussery | 6 comments I also read this book last year and it was worth the read. It moved back in forth in time quite a bit and really developed an interesting context for the characters. While is was a post-apocalyptic scenario it definitely added a new twist to this genre; the book was more about people, connections, perceptions and not about survival. The post-apocalyptic environment simply created context for exploring these ideas. The characters seemed very real and the world around them more nuanced and believable and more human than many books in the same genre.

message 4: by Megan, Challenges (new) - rated it 4 stars

Megan (lahairoi) | 6676 comments I just finished and feel completely drained. The book was so well-written and the flashbacks were perfectly proportioned throughout the narrative. I want her to write a sequel. I loved the characters so much, I want to know what happened to them! I highly recommend!

Brad | 1 comments Incredibly well-crafted!

The early, disjointed chapters slowly yielded to a marvelously interconnected tale. However, these early chapters, which jot you between a pantheon of characters, create an important backstory that flickers with varying degrees of intensity throughout the remainder of the book.

Accordingly, I found myself constantly flipping back to earlier sections with vague recollection that something or someone had either been mentioned previously or alluded to through allegory. As assembled, these connections add wonderful depth to the characters and the overall story.

Laurie It was so hard to imagine as you saw the characters before the pandemic really took hold and how they would come together in the end. And of course they didn't all meet up later or even survive, but it made the story interesting to see the stories diverge.

Jillian Getting Station Eleven is one of the most lyrical post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read. This might be due to the central theme of the book – Because survival is insufficient.

Twenty years after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population, a Traveling Symphony moves around the Michigan area to bring music and Shakespeare to the random ‘towns’ they encounter. Their mantra is painted on the side of the caravan and, while being a Star Trek reference, points to the very reason of their existence. Just surviving isn’t enough. Humans must do more and it is art that adds this ephemeral more. They solely present works of Shakespeare as his work survived plague epidemics in his lifetime as well as hundreds of years. There is a reason his work continues to resonate with people, even after a decimating flu.

The members of the Symphony see honor in what they are doing. They believe in the purpose of maintaining art in a destroyed world. Audiences have cried at their performances. They also see the pros and cons of a nomadic life. While it allows them to move along if a particular area or group of people is dangerous, it also inhibits them from feeling settled and safe.

The book begins before the existence of the Symphony, on the very night that patient zero arrives in Toronto. Arthur Leander, a famous actor, is onstage performing Leer when he has a heart attack. An EMT-in-training in the audience jumps up to save him but it is not to be. Afterward, while ruminating about his failure to save a life as well as his pleasure in having the ability to attempt to save a life, the EMT receives a call from a doctor friend warning him to leave town because of the flu. The EMT instead buys many carts full of groceries and drags them to his brother’s apartment to take care of him (his brother is wheelchair-bound.)

A young actress, Kirsten Raymonde, watches Arthur die. They were friends, in so much as a grown man can be a friend to a nine year-old girl. He was nice to her, even gave her copies of a comic book called Station Eleven. We meet her again in the Traveling Symphony. She still loves to act and every time they perform a play, she feels happy. She remembers Arthur, even twenty years later, and collects anything she can find on him – articles from magazines, pictures, etc. She has practically memorized the comic books about a group of people trapped on a spaceship that left Earth to save them.

The comic books are the work of Arthur’s first wife, an artistic outlet for herself. Over several decades she only made the two installments and paid to have a small run printed herself to give to friends and family. Arthur got two sets – one he gave to Kirsten, the other went to his son living in Israel with his mother, Arthur’s second wife. The comics detail tensions between the people who are in charge and those who live Undersea (most of the ship is flooded). The story mirrors the tensions of the post-apocalyptic world. There are those who try to take charge and change things, for better or worse, and there are always those who don’t like how that is being handled so the threat of revolt throbs.

The Symphony enters a town they had visited before, hoping to see two members who had stayed behind to give birth to their child. The town has changed. Their friends are no longer there. A prophet is in charge and his speech after their show is so unsettling the caravan packs up immediately to leave. Unfortunately, a stowaway is discovered some miles outside of the town. They keep the stowaway – a young girl who was going to be forced to be one of the prophet’s wives – but incur the wrath of the prophet. The Symphony is separated but they always make a plan. Everyone knows the next destination and heads there.

The next destination is the Museum of Civilization in an airport in Severn City.

Despite rumors that the prophet was once at Severn City, the Symphony presses on. Kirsten and her friend August travel on their own after the Symphony abandons them while they are fishing.

We get to learn about the airport at Severn City through the eyes of Clark, a university friend of Arthur’s who was traveling to Toronto for his funeral when his flight was diverted due to the flu. Twenty years later, there are a couple hundred people living at the airport. They have created tents for themselves inside various hallways for privacy. There are hunters for meat and a garden out back. Clark, thinking of his boyfriend who he can only assume died in the plague, curates a museum in the VIP lounge. He includes any item from the time before – cell phones, magazines, high-heeled shoes. He also maintains objects from people they have lost.

Clark uses the museum to teach the generation born after the pandemic about the world before, a world filled with air travel and television and cell phones and the internet.

“There had been countries, and borders. It was hard to explain.”

It sounds like magic to the children. New arrivals at the airport visit the museum for comfort or to donate items for display.

Throughout it all, we receive flashbacks to various points in Arthur’s life as an actor. These scenes provide an interesting commentary on the current role of art in our modern culture – what is appreciated, what is entertainment, etc. Arthur takes on the role of King Leer because he wants to get back to acting, despite his Hollywood success. He also decides on his final day that he wants to give it all up to move to Israel to be with his son. None of the fame or money or accolades is more important than knowing his son and ensuring his son knows him.

The threat of the prophet is an interesting antagonist in Station Eleven. His focus is purely religious. There is no room for art, only his individual view of the Bible and his interpretation of the meaning of the plague. His totalitarian rule is terrifying from a distance but clearly provides some relief for others.

“No one ever things they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.”

It raises an interesting question. Is the prophet worse than members of the Symphony, some of whom sport tattoos marking their kills? Depends on your point of view.

The way that the prophet ties into the intertwining characters is heartbreaking. Actually, the entire book is heartbreaking, even with the hope that rises at the end. There must be more than just existing and there must be things to remember.

Art as something worth preserving. Humanity is something worth preserving.

“First, we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Art helps us remember. Survival is insufficient.

David | 10 comments I enjoyed the story overall. The characters were interesting, gave enough information about themselves to be interesting, but still wishing for more about them. I'm glad the story didn't get to deep into the whole apocalyptic side. The quarantined aircraft on the tarmac and quotes from various sources helped to anchor the reader to the story. I think there could have been more back-story on the year Kirsten lost and the travels/adventures with her brother. I thought the ending was a little flat because I already know that its people that are gone that you may miss the most. I thought the plot was well done, however, somewhat predictable with the use of the graphic novel as an anchor between Kirsten and Tyler. I'd recommend the book to others.

Cathy | 39 comments This book is one of my favorite reads of the year so far! I read it in two days--couldn't take myself away. One of the things that really impressed me was how much the author fit so much into such a small book, and without it feeling rushed.

Another thing that stood for me was how realistic it all seemed (to me, at least). I liked that it didn't turn into Mad Max or anything like that.

Great read!

message 10: by Victoria (last edited Feb 07, 2015 03:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Victoria | 12 comments I have to say character driven books are not usually my thing and I much prefer a book with a good, solid and intriguing plot however this book was so well written that I did enjoy it. The characters stories all showed a different way of coping with the aftermath of a traumatic event art, religion, music, preserving the past and draws a very real parallel with how we as individuals deal with tragedy in our every day lives. I found it to be well written, richly described and a unique take on how lives are affected differently by an event experienced by all human kind. Having said that I think I preferred the writing of the narrative better than the narrative itself and therefore I gave the book three stars.

Adrienne | 8 comments While I enjoyed the book, it wasn't a page-turner for me until a bit over half way through.

Manish Sinha (manishsinhav) | 8 comments Post apocalyptic drama and novel are all in rage these days. A possible reason for this phenomena is probably to do with the wide possibility of imagination and dramatic settings which are possible once the civilization collapses.

Post-apocalyptic scenarios are fascinating and I would definitely love to live in them. Life would be cool except for not being able to watch GIFs of cute kittens falling over all the time, retrievers trying to be lap dogs, arguing with random strangers on reddit, not being able to binge on Netflix, play video games, fly from one place to another, no electricity yada yada. Well, scrap that, life would be terrible. I take back my words. Most of us lazy farts would not last a day in such a harsh world.

I managed to finish reading this book 4 months after it was released, which is not bad. To make it very clear, this book isn’t a dystopia or zombie infested world, but just a post-apocalypse where over 99% of the world’s population is decimated by a flu.
The author Emily St John Mandel has a very fluid and catchy writing which feels like an excellent prose. The book contains multiple parallel stories jumping forward and back in time explaining how their life unfolded just months before the pandemic and the life they had to live after more than a decade.

The book centers around a Hollywood celebrity and actor who dies in the opening of the book. It should not be surprising that he had multiple failed marriages and secretly he considered his life to be somewhat of failure. The night he died, they had to call his lawyer to figure out who should be contacted about his death, which explains the complications of his life. The first two of his wives play an important role in his life and also in the story of this novel.
In book also touches on the work ethics and lifestyle of paparazzi and how they have to use sleazy, deceptive and sometimes outright horrid practices to stay in the game. It seems like a game of ever diminishing moral values, if there ever was any.

There’s a prophet who calls himself the light and calls his people the righteous people because they were saved by God during the pandemic. Given that there are hundreds of godmen fooling people and making money all over the world and having their followers create lavish temples for their cult. Now imagine a world where education is a luxury, the world is no longer connected via the internet for fact-checking, access to books is a status symbol and you get a world where lots of people can fall to the fraudsters who claim to be the voice of God, a beacon in the world of darkness or who can decipher the true meaning of the Book of Revelation.

What I find surprising it that people preferred Shakespeare plays over most of the other theatrical performances after the pandemic. The traveling symphony consisted of lots of kids who travelled from city to city performing the plays and earning their living. Sometimes it is even possible to follow your profession being a stage actor after the civilization has collapsed, the other profession who survives all the time is scamming people of their money by claiming to be a voice of God.

Arthur’s ex-wife and his close friend Clarke, take a flight during the pandemic and end up stranded in an Airport. After months, they make the airport as their home, improvise a living system with security trays for holding water, jets for sleeping and other smart things we expect from educated people. Clarke and other people started collecting items from the civilization like Credit Cards, Driver’s License, iPad, red stilettos pumps, laptops etc and named it Museum of Civilization.

If you were hoping for a linear story with a nice ending, you would be deeply disappointed. It would seem like an critique piece on the social structures of humans before the pandemic and how humans have adjusted to their life in the crumbled civilization. The debate whether kids should be taught about the glory days and if these things would make them depressed or whether truth should not be concealed from them. It’s a shot at godmen who claim to exploit gullible people and an essay on how comic books influence and shape our opinions and outlook.

Peggy | 43 comments Five stars for me! I enjoyed this book it was page turner in my opinion. Overall a very satisfying read.

Whitney | 43 comments I'm giving this book 3 stars, though I think it was closer to 2.5 stars.

Overall, I felt like Kirsten and the Prophet, despite being two of the central characters, were rather flat and one-dimensional. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, I think because the novel jumped between so many viewpoints that the author didn't really develop all of them adequately. I would have liked a little more insight into what shaped the Prophet. Mandel seems to imply that he was deeply religious and thus obviously crazy, but there are many ultra religious people who take a literal view of the Bible, and that doesn't turn someone into a cold-blooded murderer/tyrant.

Also, the way in which she portrayed the impact of epidemic was inconsistent throughout. Nearly all vacant homes and buildings have been looted and resources are so scarce that someone apparently needed to post a want-ad for a single pair of size 6 women's jeans, but this would be impossible if, in fact, 99.9% of the population were dead. It doesn't make sense that people have evolved in some ways (e.g. Kirsten's knife throwing), yet no one has figured out how to build a house or repair a roof, so people are sleeping in fast food restaurants. Mandel seems to forget that for the majority of the history of the world, people lived without electricity and other modern luxuries and that the absence of such does not automatically equate with a complete collapse in society.

Despite the novel's shortcomings, I thought the portions about Miranda and Clark were very, very well done. I also enjoyed some of the broader philosophical questions the novel raised, such as the clash between those who believe "everything happens for a reason" and those who see tragedy as merely being the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So while I didn't feel as though the novel lived up to its potential, there were definitely moments of brilliance throughout.

message 15: by Beth (last edited Feb 23, 2015 11:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Beth | 41 comments I gave it three stars as well and agree that it would have been interesting to learn a lot more about the prophet. It's almost like he was a cardboard cutout or scarecrow... surely there was much more depth to his personality and a charisma (which we didn't see) that drew his followers and kept them in thrall, with so many others living in fear.

The living arrangements at the airport were interesting and the book made me think about the things we take for granted every day, but I couldn't wholeheartedly embrace it and found myself wanting it to end. The author did a good job with multiple perspectives and back and forth times and places, but I'm not sure it was all satisfactorily tied together at the end... especially with Jeevan, who felt like a separate thread instead of part of the whole. (view spoiler) Maybe that's okay.

I wanted to love it but just couldn't.

Patricia Perez (pperezelias) This is the perfect book for me. I just finished so I will write a detailed review later but I love character driven books with a hint of plot. The world was built so effortlessly and I loved the characters so much.

What does everyone think about the changing tenses? I thought that was very interesting.

ReGina (regifabulous) | 274 comments I really enjoyed this book. The presentation of a post-apocalyptic world was so engaging. I stopped to consider how thrown I would be if I didn't have modern conveniences that I take for granted. The difference between those who could remember and those who couldn't and then the question of which group had it better - thought-provoking. I also liked that this was created by the flu - there was no evil dictator or alien attack. This felt more real to me, and therein much more daunting.

The back and forth movement through time was a little disorienting at first, but you get used to it. I'm not a fan of flashbacks (one of my writing professors told me that they are most often used because the writer is too lazy to tell the story well); however, they actually serve a purpose here and add to the disorientation that the characters are feeling.

The connection of all of the characters was brilliant, though it took much longer than I wanted. However, I found the plotline to be underwhelming. It felt like the building toward a huge crescendo that ended with a couple of drum taps.

I gave it four stars because it is beautifully written and I enjoyed it very much. I was slightly disappointed by the "resolution," but it did work and was a great read. I would recommend to others.

Stephanie (Chinchillita) (chinchillita) | 427 comments Hey everyone! I know I was late to this party. I had tried to get it checked out from the library on time, but it wasn't meant to be. I just finished it last night and wanted to give my thoughts on it :)

I found myself in a weird place after finishing Station Eleven. I think I liked it, but honestly, I’m not really sure. I picked up the book because it was my reading groups February read, but because I was checking out my copy from the library, I didn’t get the book in time to participate. Maybe the experience would have been different if I had a group read along.

(view spoiler)
Although it wasn’t a bad read or even a difficult read, it took a lot more time than I expected to finish this book. I think I would try another one of this author’s books, but I’m going to need time to get Station Eleven out of my system. This would be one of those books where if someone were to ask me if I would recommend it, I would have to tell them that they need to pick it up and judge for themselves, because I truly don’t know.

Karen Mockoviak | 271 comments LOVED IT!

Favorite book I have read so far this year and would recommend it to anyone.

Beautifully written, utter page-turner, could not/did not want to put it down!

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