Monday, July 13, 2015

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: 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 Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. (summary and pic from

My Review: I can’t help but love the premise of this book: “Survival is insufficient.” (And no, I don’t watch Star Trek: Voyager, where this quote came from. I’m entirely too not-geeky for such things, although my husband is geeky enough for the both of us).

So the premise. I love it. As a musician myself, I love the idea that in a post-apocalyptic world where things are really bad and everybody’s killing everybody else (or everybody that’s left, in this case), and  it’s hard to even get your next meal, and you may get killed by exposure to the elements, and you’re just trying to figure out if you’re the only one left in the world or to know where you’re supposed to go or do or if the world always going to be like this, where after all of The Things That Are Bad and Wrong, there are people who understand that art (and in this case, music and theatre) are important. That they make a difference. That they take the normal life and elevate it, not only when but especially if things are hard and horrible. Art touches a part of the soul that chicken soup just can’t. It awakens a part of us that’s buried.  And I loved that they caravanned around with horses and tents and just went from town to town performing. That this was their purpose in life, even when their life was so different from when they first decided this. I guess I really just loved that there were people dedicated enough to their cause—a cause I believe in myself—that things didn’t change much for them when in reality, All the Things had changed.

This book is scary. I am always at least a little paranoid after reading a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. You know, buy a mini-van full of canned goods at the next case lot sale kind of paranoia. This one was no exception.  I used to be more fearless before I had kids. I guess if I die its one thing. I can scramble around and do what I have to to survive. Or not. Whatever. But my kids? Yeah, so then I buy a mini-van full of canned goods. This was also frightening and it’s measured, spare writing made it that much more so. It was not as scary as some other dystopias, though, because for the most part the flu killed off everyone it was going to (and by everyone, I mean 99% of the population) in short order and then the rest of the people were at least left with the knowledge that they wouldn’t die of that flu. Maybe just a nail they stepped on or an ear infection. Yeesh. I’m getting paranoid again. But the writing was seriously beautiful and artistic and really made the novel what it is. There are plenty of dystopian novels out there, right? This one certainly has some of the same things as far as that goes. I mean, we all understand that our iphones wouldn’t work anymore and the internet would be gone (ah, but I remember the days before the internet) and mini-vans full of canned goods would be a thing of the past. However, I really felt that this one was different. It was beautiful, it was interesting, and the story itself was almost secondary to all of that, even though it was a really great story as well.

I would liken this book to others like The Night Circus or Like Water for Elephants or The Help wherein the author’s ability really make the novel what it is. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is almost no language or sexual content in this book, although it is an adult book and does have some themes that may not be appropriate for children. There is some violence although it’s rather tame all things considered.

1 comment:

Kate Unger said...

This book is on my TBR list but really just because everyone is talking about it. Your review made me excited to read it. I love dystopian novels. And I love all of the books you compared it to. Great review!


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