Station Eleven [NOOK Book]

Overview

Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award

A New York Times Bestseller


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...
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Station Eleven

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Overview

Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award

A New York Times Bestseller


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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Finalist for the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

It begins with an actor dying onstage as he performs the title role in King Lear. It is the first of many, many deaths: A fast-spreading pandemic has wiped out nearly all the world's population, leaving behind a remnant who even two decades later are still struggling for ways to find peace or equilibrium. Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that never resorts to zombies or CGI-like pyrotechnics to reveal its characters.

Library Journal
★ 09/01/2014
Onstage at a Toronto theater, an aging movie star drops dead while performing the title role in King Lear. As the other cast members share a drink at the lobby bar before heading into the snowy night, none can know what horrors await them: "Of all of them at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city." The Shakespearean tragedy unfolds into a real-life calamity just before the entire world is overtaken by a catastrophic flu pandemic that will kill off the vast majority of the population. The narrative is organized around several figures present at the theater that night, and the tale travels back and forth in time, from the years before the pandemic through the following 20 years in a world without government, electricity, telecommunications, modern medicine, or transportation. In this lawless and dangerous new reality, a band of actors and musicians performs Shakespeare for the small communities that have come into existence in the otherwise abandoned landscape. In this unforgettable, haunting, and almost hallucinatory portrait of life at the edge, those who remain struggle to retain their basic humanity and make connections with the vanished world through art, memory, and remnants of popular culture. VERDICT This is a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner, and should be a breakout novel for Mandel. [See Prepub Alert, 3/24/14.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
The New York Times Book Review - Sigrid Nunez
Mandel is an able and exuberant storyteller, and many readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters' lives and fates…Station Eleven is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale, and Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages…If Station Eleven reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.
From the Publisher
Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction

Praise for Station Eleven:
 
Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.”
— Ann Patchett

“Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel, Station Eleven, begins with a spectacular end. One night in a Toronto theater, onstage performing the role of King Lear, 51-year-old Arthur Leander has a fatal heart attack. There is barely time for people to absorb this shock when tragedy on a considerably vaster scale arrives in the form of a flu pandemic so lethal that, within weeks, most of the world’s population has been killed . . . Mandel is an exuberant storyteller . . .  Readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters’ lives and fates . . . Station Eleven is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale . . .  Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages . . .  Station Eleven offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”
— Sigrid Nunez, New York Times Book Review

“Emily St. John Mandel’s tender and lovely new novel, Station Eleven . . . miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem . . . One of her great feats is that the story feels spun rather than plotted, with seamless shifts in time and characters. . . “Because survival is insufficient,” reads a line taken from Star Trek spray painted on the Traveling Symphony’s lead wagon. The genius of Mandel’s fourth novel . . . is that she lives up to those words. This is not a story of crisis and survival. It’s one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes.”
— Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly

“In Station Eleven , by Emily St. John Mandel, the Georgia Flu becomes airborne the night Arthur Leander dies during his performance as King Lear. Within months, all airplanes are grounded, cars run out of gas and electricity flickers out as most of the world’s population dies. The details of Arthur’s life before the flu and what happens afterward to his friends, wives and lovers create a surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid such devastation. Among the survivors are Kirsten, a child actor at the time of Arthur’s death who lives with no memory of what happened to her the first year after the flu . . . A gorgeous retelling of Lear unfolds through Arthur’s flashbacks and Kirsten’s attempt to stay alive.”
— Nancy Hightower, The Washington Post

“Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven sensitively explores the dynamics of . . . a theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony whose musicians and actors perform Shakespeare for small communities around the Great Lakes. Ms. Mandel . . . writ[es] with cool intelligence and poised understatement. Her real interest is in examining friendships and love affairs and the durable consolations of art.”
— Sam Sacks,  The Wall Street Journal

“[A] complete post-apocalyptic world is rendered in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, in which a hyper-virulent flu wipes out the majority of the earth’s population and the surviving one percent band into self-governing pods. Think of a more hopeful and female-informed rendering of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . . . Mandel’s novel feels taut and assured... By having a pre- and post-pandemic split screen, she is able to ask questions about artistic creation, fame, and faith against the backgrounds of plenty and scarcity. There is the page-turning plot and compelling characters, but more importantly in a novel that engages with social issues are the questions—not answered but asked.”
— Rob Spillman, Guernica

“So impressive . . . Station Eleven is terrifying, reminding us of how paper-thin the achievements of civilization are. But it’s also surprisingly — and quietly — beautiful . . . As Emily Dickinson knew and as Mandel reminds us, there’s a sumptuousness in destitution, a painful beauty in loss . . . A superb novel. Unlike most postapocalyptic works, it leaves us not fearful for the end of the world but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.”
— Anthony Domestic, San Francisco Chronicle

"Darkly lyrical . . . An appreciation of art, love and the triumph of the human spirit . . . Mandel effortlessly moves between time periods . . . The book is full of beautiful set pieces and landscapes; big, bustling cities before and during the outbreak, an eerily peaceful Malaysian seashore, and an all-but-abandoned Midwest airport-turned museum that becomes an all important setting for the last third of the book . . . Mandel ties up all the loose ends in a smooth and moving way, giving humanity to all her characters — both in a world that you might recognize as the one we all live in today (and perhaps take for granted) and a post-apocalyptic world without electricity, smartphones and the Internet. Station Eleven is a truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down and a pleasure to read." — Doug Knoop, The Seattle Times

"Mandel’s spectacular, unmissable new novel is set in a near-future dystopia, after most — seriously, 99.99 percent — of the world’s population is killed suddenly and swiftly by a flu pandemic. (Have fun riding the subway after this one!) The perspective shifts between a handful of survivors, all connected to a famous actor who died onstage just before the collapse. A literary page-turner, impeccably paced, which celebrates the world lost while posing questions about art, fame, and what endures after everything, and everyone, is gone."
— Amanda Bullock, Vulture

"Haunting and riveting . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted — from the Internet to eating an orange . . . It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all."
— Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Though it centers on civilization’s collapse in the aftermath of a devastating flu, this mesmerizing novel isn’t just apocalyptic fantasy—it’s also an intricately layered character study of human life itself. Jumping back and forth between the decades before and after the pandemic, the narrative interlaces several individuals’ stories, encompassing a universe of emotions and ultimately delivering a view of life that’s both chilling and jubilant.”
People Magazine
 
“If you’re planning to write a post-apocalyptic novel, you’re going to have to breathe some new life into it. Emily St. John Mandel does that with her new book, Station Eleven . . . The story is told through several characters, including an A-list actor, his ex-wives, a religious prophet and the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of Shakespearean actors and musicians who travel to settlements performing for the survivors. Each bring a unique perspective to life, relationships and what it means to live in a world returned to the dark ages . . . Mandel doesn’t put the emphasis on the apocalypse itself (the chaos, the scavenging, the scientists trying to find a cure), but instead shows the effects it has on humanity. Despite the state of the world, people find reasons to continue . . . Station Eleven will change the post-apocalyptic genre. While most writers tend to be bleak and clichéd, Mandel chooses to be optimistic and imaginative. This isn’t a story about survival, it’s a story about living.”
— Andrew Blom, The Boston Herald

“A novel that carries a magnificent depth . . . We get to see something that is so difficult to show or feel – how small moments in time link together. And how these moments add up to a life . . . Her best yet. It feels as though she took the experience earned from her previous writing and braided it together to make one gleaming strand . . . An epic book.”
— Claire Cameron, The Globe and Mail
 
“I’ve been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel ever since her first novel . . . she’s a stunningly beautiful writer whose complex, flawed, and well-drawn characters linger with you long after you set her books down . . . With the release of Station Eleven—a big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel that follows a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming a postapocalyptic world­—she’s poised for blockbuster success. Effortlessly combining her flawless craftsmanship, rich insights, and compelling characters with big-budget visions of the end of the world, Station Eleven is hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.”
— Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
 
Station Eleven is a complex, eerie novel about the years before and after a pandemic that eliminates most of humanity, save for a troupe of actors and a few traumatized witnesses. Mandel’s novel weaves together a post-apocalyptic reckoning, the life of an actor, and the thoughts of the man who tries to save him. It’s an ambitious premise, but what glues the parts together is Mandel’s vivid, addictive language. It’s easy to see why she’d claim this novel as her most prized: Station Eleven is a triumph of narrative and prose, a beautifully arranged work about art, society, and what’s great about the world we live in now.”
— Claire Luchette, Bustle

“An ambitious and addictive novel.”
— Sarah Hughes, Guardian

“Mandel deviates from the usual and creates what is possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read . . . Beautiful writing . . . An assured handle on human emotions and relationships . . . Though not without tension and a sense of horror, Station Eleven rises above the bleakness of the usual post-apocalyptic novels because its central concept is one so rarely offered in the genre – hope.”
 The Independent (UK)

“A beautiful and unsettling book, the action moves between the old and new world, drawing connections between the characters and their pasts and showing the sweetness of life as we know it now and the value of friendship, love and art over all the vehicles, screens and remote controls that have been rendered obsolete. Mandel's skill in portraying her post-apocalyptic world makes her fictional creation seem a terrifyingly real possibility. Apocalyptic stories once offered the reader a scary view of an alternative reality and the opportunity, on putting the book down, to look around gratefully at the real world. This is a book to make its reader mourn the life we still lead and the privileges we still enjoy.”
Sunday Express

“A haunting tale of art and the apocalypse. Station Eleven is an unmissable experience.”
— Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season

“There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic thrillers on the shelves these days, but Station Eleven is unusually haunting . . . There is an understated, piercing nostalgia . . . there is humour, amid the collapse . . . and there is Mandel's marvellous creation, the Travelling Symphony, travelling from one scattered gathering of humanity to another . . . There is also a satisfyingly circular mystery, as Mandel unveils neatly, satisfyingly, the links between her disparate characters . . . This book will stay with its readers much longer than more run-of-the-mill thrillers.”
— Alison Flood, Thriller of the Month Observer

“Haunting and riveting . . . Mandel will repeatedly remind us in this book, it's people rather than machines that make the world spin . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted . . . In a move that's sure to draw comparisons with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, Mandel periodically travels backward in time, allowing us to see how blind and selfish such characters were, back in the day when they had so much and lived so small . . . As a result, Station Eleven comes to seem less like a spaceship reflecting how we'll live our dystopian future than a way of thinking about how and where we're traveling here and now. It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all.”
— Mike Fischer, Knoxville News-Sentinel
 
“Post-apocalyptic scenarios are rarely positive . . . but Mandel’s book embraces a different view while still depicting how difficult living would be in a desolate world.”
— Molly Driscoll, Christian Science Monitor Editors’ Pick

"Enormous scope and an ambitious time-jumping structure, Station Eleven paints its post-apocalyptic world in both bold brushstrokes and tiny points of background detail. As the conflicts of one era illuminate another, a small group of interrelated characters witnesses the collapse of the current historical age and staggers through the first faltering steps of the next . . . [A] powerfully absorbing tale of survival in a quarantined airport and on the dangerous roads between improvised settlements, protected by actors and musicians trained for gunfights. Mandel has imagined this world in full, and her ambition and imagination on display here are admirable."
— Emily Choate, Chapter 16

"Audacious . . . A group of actors and musicians stumble upon each other and now roam the region between Toronto and Chicago as the Traveling Symphony, performing Shakespeare — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet” — for small settlements they find in the wilderness. Their existence alone provides the novel with a strange beauty, even hope, as one actress notes how these plays survived a bubonic plague centuries ago . . . Station Eleven is blessedly free of moralizing, or even much violence. If anything, it’s a book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it."
— Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Station Eleven . . . I couldn't resist . . . You should read it, too . . . It'll make you marvel at the world as we know it . . . [and] remind you the people who drive you the most crazy are perhaps also the ones you don't want to live without."
— Mary Pauline Lowry, Huffington Post Books Blog
 
“Never has a book convinced me more of society’s looming demise than Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, an apocalyptic novel about a world just like our own that, much as our own might, dissolves after a new strain of influenza eradicates 99 percent of the human population. A soul-quaking premise, and a story that, I must warn, should not be read in a grubby airport surrounded by potential carriers of … whatever disease, take your pick . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy . . . She has exuded talent for years . . . There is such glory in humanity, in what we, through every plague and every age, continue to create — like this book — and in what we are capable of sustaining.”
— Tiffany Gibert, LA Review of Books

"Mandel comes by a now-common genre mash-up, highbrow dystopia, honestly, following three small-press literary thrillers. By focusing on a Shakespeare troupe roving a post-pandemic world of sparse communities, she brings a hard-focus humanity to the form. Repeated flashbacks to the life of an early flu victim, a Hollywood actor who dies onstage in the character of Lear, provide both comic relief and the pathos of a beautifully frivolous world gone by."
— Boris Kachka's 8 Books You Need To Read This September, Vulture
 
“Disappear inside the exquisite post-apocalyptic world of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and you’ll resurface with a greater appreciation for the art and culture we daily take for granted. With fearless imagination, Mandel recounts the peripatetic adventures of an eccentric band of artists, musicians, playwrights, and actors as they traverse the world’s dreary landscape attempting to keep culture and art alive in the aftermath of a devastating disease that has wiped out much of civilization . . . Strange, poetic, thrilling, and grim all at once, Station Eleven is a prismatic tale about survival, unexpected coincidences, and the significance of art and its oft under-appreciated beauty. ”
— September 2014’s Best Books, Bustle

“The most buzzed-about novel of the season.”
— Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

"In this unforgettable, haunting, and almost hallucinatory portrait of life at the edge, those who remain struggle to retain their basic humanity and make connections with the vanished world through art, memory, and remnants of popular culture . . . a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner."
— Lauren Gilbert, Library Journal (starred)

"This fast-paced novel details life before and after a flu wipes out 99 percent of the earth's population . . . As the characters reflect on what gives life meaning in a desolate, postapocalyptic world, readers will be inspired to do the same."
Real Simple

“Once in a very long while a book becomes a brand new old friend, a story you never knew you always wanted. Station Eleven is that rare find that feels familiar and extraordinary at the same time, expertly weaving together future and present and past, death and life and Shakespeare. This is truly something special.”
—Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

"Station Eleven is a magnificent, compulsive novel that cleverly turns the notion of a “kinder, gentler time” on its head.  And, oh, the pleasure of falling down the rabbit hole of Mandel’s imagination — a dark, shimmering place rich in alarmingly real detail and peopled with such human, such very appealing characters."
— Liza Klaussmann, author of Tigers in Red Weather

"Her best, most ambitious work yet. Post-apocalyptic tales are all the rage this season, but Mandel’s intricate plotting and deftness with drawing character makes this novel of interlinked tales stand out as a beguiling read. Beginning with the onslaught of the deadly Georgian flu and the death of a famous actor onstage, and advancing twenty years into the future to a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors who perform for the few remaining survivors, the novel sits with darkness while searching for the beauty in art and human connection."  
— Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2014 Book Preview, The Millions

“Ambitious, magnificent . . . Mandel’s vision is not only achingly beautiful but startlingly  plausible, exposing the fragile beauty of the world we inhabit. In the burgeoning postapocalyptic literary genre, Mandel’s transcendent, haunting novel deserves a place alongside The Road, The Passage, and The Dog Stars.”
—Kristine Huntley, Booklist (starred)

“[An] ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness . . . Think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion . . . Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet . . . Magnetic . . . a breakout novel.”
— Kirkus (starred)

Station Eleven is the kind of book that speaks to dozens of the readers in me—-the Hollywood devotee, the comic book fan, the cult junkie, the love lover, the disaster tourist. It is a brilliant novel, and Emily St. John Mandel is astonishing.” 
— Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers
 
Station Eleven is a firework of a novel. Elegantly constructed and packed with explosive beauty, it's full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.” 
— Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
 
“Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.” 
— Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

"A unique departure from which to examine civilization's wreckage . . . [a] wild fusion of celebrity gossip and grim future . . . Mandel's examination of the connections between individuals with disparate destinies makes a case for the worth of even a single life."
Publishers Weekly

The Barnes & Noble Review

"May you live in interesting times," that apocryphal but durable "Chinese" curse, has always seemed like a foregone conclusion. In any age there is bound to be plenty going on that qualifies as interesting — that is, terrifying, dispiriting, and despair-inducing. Some of the more "interesting" phenomena commanding our attention at this writing are Russia's belligerence; the alarmingly rapid rise of ISIS; earthquakes in Northern California; the portentous rumblings of an Icelandic volcano; and the resurgence of Ebola in Africa. It is this final item — and the resulting worries about how it could be spread via air travel — that makes Emily St. John Mandel's end-of-days novel Station Eleven so grimly captivating. The disease in her scenario, a sort of aggressive flu, is short on horror movie symptoms, but the miracle of flight allows it to work quickly and to leave vanishingly few survivors.

Mandel, the author of three previous novels, has in Station Eleven borrowed a conceit from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957). Bergman's great film follows a knight and a troupe of actors through Sweden at the time of the Black Death; Mandel's book follows a traveling Shakespeare company through the Upper Midwest in the aftermath of a flu pandemic that has brought the world close to an end. That is where the similarities end, and it would be a mistake to call Station Eleven an homage, let alone a rip-off, of the film. Where The Seventh Seal treats the meaning of death in God's seeming absence, Station Eleven grapples with the meaning of life, creativity, and fame in the absence of a civilization to witness or nurture human achievement.

The book opens at a performance of King Lear in Toronto, just as the great pandemic is beginning but before any but medical professionals are aware of it. Arthur Leander, the famous actor portraying Lear, has a heart attack onstage; Jeevan Chaudhary, an EMT-in-training, leaps from the audience and tries unsuccessfully to revive him. This is a potent symbol of the doomed project of preservation — of order, sanity, and meaning — that occupies Station Eleven's characters. And it is shortly after this episode that Mandel retails a litany of things lost to the global disaster: "No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take photographs of concert stages. . . . No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one's hand. . . . No more flight. No more countries, all borders unmanned." This unsettling catalogue goes on for two pages and concludes with a grim double entendre about the unmasking of our native potential for barbarism: "No more avatars."

The story picks up again in the former United States, "twenty years after the end of air travel." Kirsten Raymonde, who had been backstage — as a child actress — the night of Arthur's death, roams the ravaged midwestern countryside with the Traveling Symphony, performing King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream. One suspects that this ragtag troupe performs as much to make itself indispensable, and thus slightly safer from depredation, as to keep the lights of civilized culture flickering. Dangers abound. There are many tropes familiar from Cormac McCarthy's The Road as well as the Walking Dead graphic novels and television show: roving bands of marauders and "ferals,"infighting and politicking among the struggling remnant. Daily life is about making it to the next flimsy outpost.

Interwoven with this narrative is the tale of one of the first groups of survivors — including Arthur's best friend, one of his ex-wives, and his young son — trapped in a quarantined airport. (The quarantine lapses when there is no one left to enforce it, but the group is still trapped in every meaningful sense.) Food court stores and snack kiosks are emptied out; luggage is rifled for medication; devices run out of batteries; credit cards are discarded as it becomes clear that they will never mean anything again. The contingency and fragility of life as we know it stand in increasingly depressing relief. Planes take on a great significance. As a character says elsewhere in the book, "If I ever saw an airplane, that meant that somewhere planes still took off. For a whole decade after the pandemic, I kept looking at the sky."

This "looking at the sky" is pointedly not a nod to the religious or spiritual impulse. The things the characters in Station Eleven long for are squarely of this world, or at least what this world used to be. (Kirsten, after ransacking an abandoned house: "That's what it would have been like . . . living in a house. You would leave and lock the door behind you, and all through the day you would carry a key.") There is nothing like genuine religious feeling among the survivors, though — perhaps a bit too predictably — there is plenty of the counterfeit kind. The villain of Station Eleven, or at least of the narrative thread involving the adult Kirsten, is a sinister Prophet leading his cultish followers in rapine and violence. When the Prophet's origin story is revealed, so too is Station Eleven's weak grasp of the outsize role that the transcendent would play in a ruined civilization.

Instead of the transcendent, the search for meaning in the face of our sure annihilation, we get fame. Arthur Leander, the deceased actor, is the linchpin of Station Eleven. The third of the book's interwoven narratives recounts his rise to celebrity, his succession of wives, and the pleasures and perils of celebrity. What human need does celebrity satisfy, and is it a lasting satisfaction? These questions are encoded in the very structure of Station Eleven, its shifts of time and place focusing the reader's thoughts on the power of memory and nostalgia, the desire for something that doesn't pass away.

A stoic sort of longing imbues every page. One character founds a makeshift Museum of Civilization at the airport, where the doomed may examine such relics as smartphones and fancy shoes. Another founds a rudimentary newspaper, in which the annals of the crumbling world may be recorded. Kirsten covets tabloid articles about Leander, her dimly remembered friend, and pages of Station Eleven, the graphic novel by Arthur's ex-wife Miranda, about space travelers searching for home. Fame in Mandel's novel is not crude celebrity as we understand it, but the deeper kind of perdurability inherent in all great art and human endeavor. As the words on the Traveling Symphony's caravan — a motto remembered from an old Star Trek episode — go: Survival is insufficient. The goal is not merely to survive but to live on in the memories of others.

A writer living in Hudson, NY, Stefan Beck has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun, The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, and other publications. He also writes a food blog, The Poor Mouth, which can be found at www.stefanbeckonline.com/tpm/.

Reviewer: Stefan Beck

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385353311
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 571
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Emily St. John Mandel was born in British Columbia, Canada. She is the author of three previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—all of which were Indie Next picks. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 and Venice Noir. She lives in New York City with her husband.

www.emilymandel.com


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Jeevan’s understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he’d seen a lot of action movies. He started with water, filled one of the oversized shopping carts with as many cases and bottles as he could fit. There was a moment of doubt on the way to the cash registers, straining against the weight of the cart—was he overreacting?—but there was a certain momentum now, too late to turn back. The clerk raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

 “I’m parked just outside,” he said. “I’ll bring the cart back.” The clerk nodded, tired. She was young, early twenties probably, with dark bangs that she kept pushing out of her eyes. He forced the impossibly heavy cart outside and half-pushed, half-skidded through the snow at the exit. There was a long ramp down into a small park-like arrangement of benches and planters. The cart gained speed on the incline, bogged down in deep snow at the bottom of the ramp and slid sideways into a planter.

It was eleven twenty. The supermarket closed in forty minutes. He was imagining how long it would take to bring the cart up to Frank’s apartment, to unload it, the time required for tedious explanations and reassurances of sanity before he could return to the grocery store for more supplies. Could there be any harm in leaving the cart here for the moment? There was no one on the street. He called Hua on his way back into the store.

 “What’s happening now?” He moved quickly through the store while Hua spoke. Another case of water—Jeevan was under the impression that one can never have too much—and then cans and cans of food, all the tuna and beans and soup on the shelf, pasta, anything that looked like it might last a while. The hospital was full of flu patients and the situation was identical at the other hospitals in the city. The ambulance service was overwhelmed. Thirty-seven patients had died now, including every patient who’d been on the Moscow flight and two E.R. nurses who’d been on duty when the first patients came in. The shopping cart was almost unmanageably heavy. Hua said he’d called his wife and told her to take the kids and leave the city tonight, but not by airplane. Jeevan was standing by the cash register again, the clerk scanning his cans and packages. The part of the evening that had transpired in the Elgin Theatre seemed like possibly a different lifetime. The clerk was moving very slowly. Jeevan passed her a credit card and she scrutinized it as though she hadn’t just seen it five or ten minutes ago.

 “Take Laura and your brother,” Hua said, “and leave the city tonight.”
 
“I can’t leave the city tonight, not with my brother. I can’t rent a wheelchair van at this hour.”

 In response there was only a muffled sound. Hua was coughing.
 
“Are you sick?” Jeevan was pushing the cart toward the door.

 “Goodnight, Jeevan.” Hua disconnected and Jeevan was alone in the snow. He felt possessed. The next cart was all toilet paper. The cart after that was more canned goods, also frozen meat and aspirin, garbage bags, bleach, duct tape.

 “I work for a charity,” he said to the girl behind the cash register, his third or fourth time through, but she wasn’t paying much attention to him. She kept glancing up at the small television above the film development counter, ringing his items through on autopilot. Jeevan called Laura on his sixth trip through the store, but his call went to voicemail.

 “Laura,” he began. “Laura.” He thought it better to speak to her directly and it was already almost eleven fifty, there wasn’t time for this. Filling the cart with more food, moving quickly through this bread-and-flower-scented world, this almost-gone place, thinking of Frank in his 22nd floor apartment, high up in the snowstorm with his insomnia and his book project, his day-old New York Times and his Beethoven. Jeevan wanted desperately to reach him. He decided to call Laura later, changed his mind and called the home line while he was standing by the checkout counter, mostly because he didn’t want to make eye contact with the clerk.
 
“Jeevan, where are you?” She sounded slightly accusatory. He handed over his credit card.
 
“Are you watching the news?”
 
“Should I be?”

“There’s a flu epidemic, Laura. It’s serious.”

“That thing in Russia or wherever? I knew about that.”

“It’s here now. It’s worse than we’d thought. I’ve just been talking to Hua. You have to leave the city.” He glanced up in time to see the look the checkout girl gave him.

Have to? What? Where are you, Jeevan?” He was signing his name on the slip, struggling with the cart toward the exit, where the order of the store ended and the frenzy of the storm began. It was difficult to steer the cart with one hand. There were already five carts parked haphazardly between benches and planters, dusted now with snow.

“Just turn on the news, Laura.”

“You know I don’t like to watch the news before bed. Are you having an anxiety attack?”

“What? No. I’m going to my brother’s place to make sure he’s okay.”

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“You’re not even listening. You never listen to me.” Jeevan knew this was probably a petty thing to say in the face of a probable flu pandemic, but couldn’t resist. He plowed the cart into the others and dashed back into the store. “I can’t believe you left me at the theatre,” he said. “You just left me at the theatre performing CPR on a dead actor.”

“Jeevan, tell me where you are.”

“I’m in a grocery store.” It was eleven fifty-five. This last cart was all grace items: vegetables, fruit, bags of oranges and lemons, tea, coffee, crackers, salt, preserved cakes. “Look, Laura, I don’t want to argue. This flu’s serious, and it’s fast.”

 “What’s fast?”

“This flu, Laura. It’s really fast. Hua told me. It’s spreading so quickly. I think you should get out of the city.” At the last moment, he added a bouquet of daffodils.
           
 
Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Now that you’ve read the entire novel, go back and reread the passage by Czeslaw Milosz that serves as an epigraph. What does it mean? Why did Mandel choose it to introduce Station Eleven?

2.  Does the novel have a main character? Who would you consider it to be?

3. Arthur Leander dies while performing King Lear, and the Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare’s works. On page 57, Mandel writes, “Shakespeare was the third born to his parents, but the first to survive infancy. Four of his siblings died young. His son, Hamnet, died at eleven and left behind a twin. Plague closed the theaters again and again, death flickering over the landscape.” How do Shakespearean motifs coincide with those of Station Eleven, both the novel and the comic?

4. Arthur’s death happens to coincide with the arrival of the Georgia Flu. If Jeevan had been able to save him, it wouldn’t have prevented the apocalypse. But how might the trajectory of the novel been different?

5.  What is the metaphor of the Station Eleven comic books? How does the Undersea connect to the events of the novel?

6. “Survival is insufficient,” a line from Star Trek: Voyager, is the Traveling Symphony’s motto. What does it mean to them?

7. On page 62, the prophet discusses death: “I’m not speaking of the tedious variations on physical death. There’s the death of the body, and there’s the death of the soul. I saw my mother die twice.” Knowing who his mother was, what do you think he meant by that?

8. Certain items turn up again and again, for instance the comic books and the paperweight—things Arthur gave away before he died, because he didn’t want any more possessions. And Clark’s Museum of Civilization turns what we think of as mundane belongings into totems worthy of study. What point is Mandel making?

9. On a related note, some characters—like Clark—believe in preserving and teaching about the time before the flu. But in Kirsten’s interview with François Diallo, we learn that there are entire towns that prefer not to: “We went to a place once where the children didn’t know the world had ever been different . . . ” (page 115). What are the benefits of remembering, and of not remembering?

10. What do you think happened during the year Kirsten can’t remember?

11. In a letter to his childhood friend, Arthur writes that he’s been thinking about a quote from Yeats, “Love is like the lion’s tooth.” (page 158). What does this mean, and why is he thinking about it?

12. How does the impending publication of those letters affect Arthur?

13. On page 206, Arthur remembers Miranda saying “I regret nothing,” and uses that to deepen his understanding of Lear, “a man who regrets everything,” as well as his own life. How do his regrets fit into the larger scope of the novel? Other than Miranda, are there other characters that refuse to regret?

14. Throughout the novel, those who were alive during the time before the flu remember specific things about those days: the ease of electricity, the taste of an orange. In their place, what do you think you’d remember most?

15. What do you imagine the Traveling Symphony will find when they reach the brightly lit town to the south?

16. The novel ends with Clark, remembering the dinner party and imagining that somewhere in the world, ships are sailing. Why did Mandel choose to end the novel with him?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(14)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 15, 2014

    There has been a lot of "buzz" surrounding Emily St. J

    There has been a lot of "buzz" surrounding Emily St. John Mandel's contribution to the post-apocalyptic genre, Station Eleven, which was selected as one of Amazon's best books of the month for September. While I'm not sure that all the hype is quite justified, I did enjoy Mandel's writing and her fresh approach. Rather than placing her primary focus on the horrors and challenges of survival in a world decimated by the "Georgia flu," Mandel clearly believes the motto she gives her Traveling Symphony: "Survival is insufficient." The main characters in Station Eleven are not ex-military hardasses, as is so often the case in this genre; they are actors, musicians, and artists who believe that the fine arts are essential to our human identity, a sentiment with which I heartily agree. Mandel conveys this feeling not only through the actions and dialogue of her characters, but also by following key relics of the pre-apocalypse world (a paperweight, a comic book) as they pass through various hands, connecting lives in sometimes unexpected ways. We have here, not six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but six degrees of "Station Eleven," the comic book from which the novel draws its title.

    Strangely enough, Station Eleven's strength is also its main weakness. Mandel gives short shrift to her characters' survival narratives. Survival may be insufficient, but it is nevertheless essential. Kirsten Raymonde, the child actor who subsequently joins the Traveling Symphony in its Shakespeare productions, doesn't remember her first year as a survivor, presumably because it was too traumatic. Although I didn't need the gory details, I did feel as though her amnesia left a gaping hole as I reached the end of the book.

    This quibble aside, Station Eleven is a moving and surprisingly hopeful addition to the literature of the post-apocalypse.

    I received a free copy of Station Eleven through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2014

    Station Eleven Review and Opinion

    Though i am only 13 years of age (About to be 14), i would highly reccomend this book. This book is appropriate for ages 15 and up. Though there are some obscenities and graphic violence, this book will open your eyes to a whole new world of literacy. The author is honetly a genius, this peice of writing is absolutely preciously valuable.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    Wonderful! Emily is such a gifted writer. Engaging and beautiful

    Wonderful! Emily is such a gifted writer. Engaging and beautifully written, STATION ELEVEN has something for everyone-a little sci-fi, dystopia, heartache and survival. I will recommend this book to everyone.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2014

    Literary dystopia at it's best

    If you love literary fiction you'll love this. If you are not a fan of science fiction or dystopian fiction...well, read this anyway. It's all about character, time, and place. You'll love it and expand your horizons. Trust me!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2014

    Not your typical post apocalyptic tale

    I am a sucker for the recent flood of apocalyptic tales, and this was one of the best stories I've read in a long time. It was less about the collapse of civilization and more about the characters experiences, but the story provided enough details of the events to be satisfying. I did not want the story to end, and yet I could not put the book down. I would recommend this to anyone who likes to read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    A good read. More a series of interwoven stories than a traditio

    A good read. More a series of interwoven stories than a traditional novel. The stories/storylines influence each other, some directly, others indirectly. Past and present are presented in no particular order. This flipping back and forth between the times before and after the apocalyptic event emphasizes the order within chaos concept that is center to the overall story and drives home the fragile, transitory nature of life and all we take for granted.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2014

    Dr. X

    This book will cure insomnia. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2014

    Survival Is Insufficient

    A key quote from Star Trek in this beautifully written and more upbeat post-apocalyptic novel. Highly recommend.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 11, 2014

    This is a fabulous read, so much so that I think it will ruin wh

    This is a fabulous read, so much so that I think it will ruin whatever I read next, by comparison. I loved the interplay in the structure -- past and present, letters and interviews mixed with more traditional narrative. There was a great range of viewpoints, but not too many, and the main characters were all rendered so well. I enjoyed how the different plot twists came together in the end, and I thought the premise was well done, especially with the parallels from the Station Eleven comic books. Excellent, excellent. Loved it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2014

    So Far it's not drivel

    My previous review indicating this was drivel was premature. After the first 50 pages the sgiry picks up and the writing also improves.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    A good read

    Good post apocalyptic novel. A pandemic wipes out most of the world. Small communities spring up. The focus of the story is an unlikely sounding band of musicians and Shakespearian actors who travel through parts of Michigan giving performances to the surviving groups.Some communities are run by religious fanatics. Another one is an airport where a bunch of uninfected people found themselves stranded and stayed. Interesting characters and a plot that ties the first day of the pandemic with the rest of the novel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    Beautifully Written

    Finished this wonderful book in one day. The author's prose is well paced. Several times during the reading I paused to reread an especially emotive passage. Highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2014

    Wonderful Story-Telling

    Mandel has written a superb variation on the apocalypse / post-apocalypse theme. The interweaving storylines cross and merge well and make for an intriguing narrative with well-established characters. Highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2014

    Though the writing is imaginative and flowing for the most part,

    Though the writing is imaginative and flowing for the most part, I was distracted by the odd idioms that brought my reading to a halt at times while I stumbled over the aberrant wording. I would label this as a mix of vignettes rather than a novel. The attachments between characters and various actions are fleeting and incidental. The genre here is flow of consciousness. Perhaps it fits for a dystopic work. It was a disappointment.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2014

    Well written

    There is something for everyone in this well written and haunting novel. A very believable story of the fall of the modern world. This is the best science fiction I have read in a long time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 2, 2014

    Publications written on the subject of an post-apocalyptic and i

    Publications written on the subject of an post-apocalyptic and it's genre are plentiful; however, Emily St. John Mandel's story captivates from the very first page.  Her style is refreshing and engaging.  Most books in this genre are dark and the characters are stricken with just being able to breathe and survive. At no point was there a loss of conviction or hope in regards to the characters, or as a reader for that matter.  Entertainment Weekly and the NY Times had it correct - this is a novel that should be read and enjoyed - soon.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2014

    I found this story about the world after the collapse of civiliz

    I found this story about the world after the collapse of civilization to be beautiful and haunting.  The humanity of the characters was believably portrayed .  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2014

    Fyyyerewwqszvkkljiffewawuoouymmkl..kp

    Cggxgx

    0 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2014

    12. DOLLER

    I cant UNBELIVE THAT THIS IS SOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH MONEY ITS KIND OF WIERD BECAUSE I WOULD HAVE GOT IT BUT IF THEY LOW DOWN THE MONEY THEN I BET EVREY ONE WOULD GET THIS BOOK THANK U

    0 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2014

    Frozen the jounir movie

    It was adout elsa and how she used her icesy power and how she made snow and they made a snowman and it was name ofle the youget tried to roll the best she could than the mom made dinner and after she made dinner she told them to go in
    to eat and they made snowangle's.

    0 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews

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