Thursday, April 9, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

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.  

My Review:

A novel in which everyone (well, almost everyone) dies of the flu!  As a low-grade germaphobe, this book review is brought to you by my favorite little friend, Waterless Hand Sanitizer.  Which I have been using a lot more of since I read this book.
Don't leave home without it!
Anyway...another well-hyped, new-ish novel!  I just can't stay away from the New Releases shelf at my library the last few months.  Plus, this one won The Morning News's Tournament of Books (think Final Four for books) this year, so that's saying a lot.

I suppose that Station Eleven could be summarized as an apocalypse novel.  Catastrophic flu, 99% of the population dead, bye bye Internet, etc.  If you're into that sort of reading, you'll certainly find it here.  However, that simple description also does the book a bit of a disservice, as it has a lot of the literary merits that might be lacking in a more action-based novel.  It's not entirely an Oryx and Crake, or The Road, but it's also not The Hunger Games or Feed .  Somewhere in the in-between.

I loved this book.  Mandel wrapped me into the post-apocalyptic world that she created right from page one, and I never wanted to put the book down once she did.  Though truthfully, I'd be lying if I said that it left me feeling happy at the end.  Bereft would be a more likely descriptor.  There's just so much sadness to process here.  Of course, you have the devastation of the pandemic, but then there's all of the interpersonal relationships between the characters--lots of divorce, death, abandonment, violence.  Don't get me wrong, the book is amazingly well-written, it's just not a feel-good story by any means.  I was deeply affected by these characters by the end of the book, flu pandemic or not, which says a lot about the quality of the writing.

I can't pinpoint the one thing that made this book great for me.  It's just all of it...the alternating storylines (which cover both pre- and post-pandemic), the world building, the story-within-a-story (as the title comes from a comic book that is introduced in the novel)...this book is a puzzle that Mandel put together perfectly.  I can't think of an adult fiction reader who this would not appeal to in some way.  (Unless a germaphobic-reader-who-only-loves-happy-books is out there...then by all means, avoid.)

Station Eleven.  Read it.  Love it.

Be honest, people--based on your survival/sanitation skillz, what are your chances of surviving the flu-based apocalypse??


  1. I loved this one too and I'm NOT usually into post-apocalyptic anything. You're right - it's more literary fiction with a post apocalyptic setting. Was one of my favorites of last year.

    1. Good to know! I've heard so many raves before I finally picked it up. It really is a unique take on an often-done subject.

  2. Ha! Your hand sanitizer. And I totally agree about finding it hard to pinpoint what worked...I think it just had a great mix and it was different from what we'd usually expect from this type of book.

    1. Agreed! I love apocalypse themes, but they do get overdone at times...I was unsure how she would make this stand out. My worries were unfounded, thankfully.

  3. Definitely loved this book, Kelly; didn't you find it interesting how they all created a new life, post-flu? The way that all of the characters had new routines, new lifestyles that served them even in the midst of all the destruction? So much to this novel; so glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Yes, I absolutely agree! It was interesting how some of the more timid/innocent characters pre-flu (ie. Elizabeth and her son) became so different post-flu. How the circumstances changed their personalities and trajectories entirely. (Or perhaps just brought out latent characteristics that didn't come through in that pre-flu world...) Interesting stuff for sure!

  4. So glad you enjoyed this one! I totally would not survive the flu-based apocalypse -- and I'm totally comfortable with that. I do NOT want to earn any knife tattoos :P

    1. The good thing about this flu was that it was so fast-acting. No major suffering for those who have no desire for knife tattoos. ;)

  5. I am very excited to read this book! It's already downloaded onto my nook but I have to wait until I finish a few in my TBR pile before delving into a newer read. Sounds like I'll enjoy it!

    1. Can't wait until you get to it! It is absolutely worth the wait.

  6. The thing about a flu-based apocalypse is that at least I wouldn't feel I had failed if I died. What can I do? Germs gonna germ. If it's zombies or alien invasion or whatever, and I just don't fight hard enough to survive (which, I'm a wuss, I definitely wouldn't), then that's a bit lame of me. But the flu -- totally beyond my control.

    1. "Germs gonna germ" is absolutely making it into my verbal repertoire from now on. Especially with two kids. HA.

      True about it being out of your control though. Except for that hand sanitizer. DON'T FORGET THE HAND SANITIZER!! :-D

  7. After having a preemie, I am a pro at avoiding the flu! hahaha
    But I have to admit, I've let my guard down now that she's older... and last week when we all had the stomach flu or whatever it was, I totally thought about this book as I lay on the couch barely able to move. ;)

    1. LOL I'm glad you guys didn't go full Station Eleven while you were down for the count!! :)

      I let my guard down once we hit spring, and then we all got the most killer head cold EVER last week. So this is what happens when I don't use my hand sanitizer. Constant vigilance!! :)

  8. I do think I'm going to read this and love it! I've wanted this for a while and now that it's actually sitting on my shelves, I hope to get to it soon. But I'm sure you know how that goes! :)

    1. Haha oh I do! I hope you get to it though, it is worth the read.

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