Published by Knopf on September 9, 2014
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be 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 Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.
I enjoy a good apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic novel, and I love literary fiction. Station Eleven gave me both. A flu pandemic wipes out 99% of the world’s population. Civilization collapses, the survivors do what they can to survive and rebuild. But merely survival is not enough for The Traveling Symphony, a troupe of musicians and actors who go from outpost to outpost performing Shakespeare. The storyline twists and veers in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time: before, during, and up to twenty years after the pandemic. What I found most satisfying was the descriptive world-building, including how people reacted to this new world; how they interacted, how they felt:
“[They were] furious because fury was the last defense against understanding what the news stations were reporting. Beneath the fury was something literally unspeakable, the television news carrying an implication that no one could yet bring themselves to consider.”
What some of my favorite bloggers had to say about Station Eleven:
April at The Steadfast Reader: “It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.”
Katie at Words for Worms: “This book is an excellent, thought provoking read that will leave you pondering civilization, spirituality, and hand sanitizer.”
Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books: “Where Mandel excels is in the little things that might not occur to anyone thinking about the apocalypse. . .Station Eleven is powerful because of its realism.”
If you’ve read the book, hop over to River City Reading and join the conversation in the comments. Shannon poses some great discussion questions!