Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel
A National Book Award FinalistA PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.


Reviewed: 2016-07-08
It seems I am willing to overlook a lot if I think a book is written well. The story Station Eleven tells is very engaging, very atmospheric, and, in my opinion, very dumb. But it was so engaging and atmospheric that I didn't care it was dumb.

One snowy night in Toronto, a famous actor suffers a fatal heart attack during a performance of King Lear. That same night, a deadly flu begins to spread throughout the city. It becomes a pandemic that kills off 99% of the world’s population. Fifteen years later, a travelling group of actors and musicians visits settlements across the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare for survivors. The troupe’s motto, taken from Star Trek: Voyager, is “Because survival is insufficient.” The story oscillates between pre- and post-apocalyptic settings, revealing how an individual’s actions can have a ripple effect across time.

What sets Station Eleven apart from other post-apocalyptic stories is the question of what place art could possibly have after the end of civilization. Unfortunately, this is the very thing that drove me nuts. For instance, this is the first post-apocalyptic world I've seen that is weirdly unconcerned with food. Like in [b:The Road|6288|The Road|Cormac McCarthy||3355573] and [b:The Walking Dead|6465707|The Walking Dead, Compendium 1|Robert Kirkman||6656179], survivors ransack abandoned houses for supplies. In Station Eleven, however, supplies include rosin for string instruments and a dress that can be used as a costume for Titania. Yeah, okay, "survival is insufficient," but I could not stop rolling my eyes.

While I thought it silly, I was never tempted to set the book aside. Emily Mandel's prose has an eerie, otherworldly quality to it that suits her story perfectly. Death and violence are observed with a detachment almost like that of a nature documentary:

“Of all of them there 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.”

Oooh, shivers.
Reviewed: 2016-06-15

This is definitely much more about how the apocalypse affects humanity and civilization than it is about the details of the apocalypse. Something called the "Georgia Flu" wipes out most of humanity. The book switches from pre-apocalypse to post and back. 

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