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. Read more...
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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 Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-06-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Few themes are as played-out as that of post-apocalypse, but St. John Mandel (The Lola Quartet) finds a unique point of departure from which to examine civilization’s wreckage, beginning with a performance of King Lear cut short by the onstage death of its lead, Arthur Leander, from an apparent heart attack. On hand are an aspiring paramedic, Jeevan Chaudary, and a young actress, Kirsten Raymonde; Leander’s is only the first death they will witness, as a pandemic, the so-called Georgia Flu, quickly wipes out all but a few pockets of civilization. Twenty years later, Kirsten, now a member of a musical theater troupe, travels through a wasteland inhabited by a dangerous prophet and his followers. Guided only by the graphic novel called Station Eleven given to her by Leander before his death, she sets off on an arduous journey toward the Museum of Civilization, which is housed in a disused airport terminal. Kirsten is not the only survivor with a curious link to the actor: the story explores Jeevan’s past as an entertainment journalist and, in a series of flashbacks, his role in Leander’s decline. Also joining the cast are Leander’s first wife, Miranda, who is the artist behind Station Eleven, and his best friend, 70-year-old Clark Thompson, who tends to the terminal settlement Kirsten is seeking. With its wild fusion of celebrity gossip and grim future, this book shouldn’t work nearly so well, but St. John Mandel’s examination of the connections between individuals with disparate destinies makes a case for the worth of even a single life. (Sept.)
Creating beauty amid the ashes
BookPage Fiction Top Pick, September 2014
The end of the world might seem like an odd time to care about music and art; why worry about Shakespeare when civilization has collapsed? But in Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it seems perfectly plausible that a Traveling Symphony would cross the wasteland that exists 20 years after most of the world’s population has died from a flu epidemic. They perform in parking lots, traveling from settlement to settlement and raiding long-abandoned houses for costumes. The musicians care for each other like family and work to hone their craft, because as Mandel writes early in this suspenseful and haunting novel: “What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.”
The narrative moves back and forth in time—before the collapse and after, introducing and reintroducing characters at different moments in their lives. This nonlinear structure contributes to the novel’s quick (and addictive) pace. A Hollywood actor dies during a production of King Lear, then the man who tried to revive him attempts to save himself from the quickly spreading flu. Kirsten, a child actor in Lear, survives the sickness and grows up to join the Traveling Symphony. A dangerous prophet gains power, and a British expat builds a museum of artifacts from the world before the collapse. Somehow, these disparate threads nest and connect, often returning to an exquisite graphic novel that links several of the storylines.
Though apocalyptic societies in literature may seem a bit tired, Station Eleven feels like something special and fresh: a story that occasionally has the adrenaline of The Hunger Games, bolstered by gorgeous sentences and complex characters who mourn for the fallen world, yet find joy in what remains. After playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kirsten reflects on “the state of suspension that always came over her at the end of performances, a sense of having flown very high and landed incompletely, her soul pulling upward out of her chest.” Upon finishing Mandel’s wonderful novel, readers will know the feeling.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Emily St. John Mandel about Station Eleven.