Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
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.
Set in present time and in the near future, Station Eleven looks at the outbreak of a deadly virus that is so contagious, the majority of the population is wiped out very quickly. Only a handful of people survive due to circumstance and the book moves between some of the survivors in the new post-Apocalyptic-type world, people just before the virus outbreak, as well as throws in some early character background stories. Most characters are linked in some way back to Arthur Leander, an actor who died on the night the virus was starting to break out. We meet several main characters whose journey we follow either just after the outbreak or leading up to the outbreak. I love reading books when you soon realise that every character is going to be connected in some way, and I have so much fun trying to work out what these connections would be.
There’s just something I love about a good plague/virus epidemic story and this book did such a great job. It was creepy, and awesome. I enjoyed the flitting backwards and forwards between the past and present. We learn back stories to many of the characters and we stay with several characters throughout the novel, many of whom I grew quite attached to.
I also liked that this was largely set in Canada. I haven’t really read much Canadian fiction, but I always enjoy it when I find it. The setting for this was described so well, I truly felt I was on the streets of Toronto, or the wilderness of a deserted North America. The desperation of people trying to flee the virus, and save their families was described sometimes too well. A lot of this book could be described as sad, slightly depressing even, but Mandel had a way of just sucking me in, that even when things were dark (and they do get quite dark), I was couldn’t stop reading. It was truly engrossing.
The only slightly negative thing I would mention is that it does jump around a lot between time and characters. I found this a bit off-putting at first, but got used to it pretty quickly. However, as each chapter alternates between various characters, there are times when I would just like to keep reading from a certain person’s perspective, and in cases like this, I often skip ahead to see how far away the next chapter on that person is (and maybe even read a little bit, before jumping back to my spot in the book). This is, of course, my own fault, and really only happens with books I’m reeeeeally into, so that’s a good sign!
Emily St. John Mandel is an author whose work I’m excited to check out. In fact, I’m currently reading an older novel of hers, called The Singer’s Gun, but more on that in a future post ;)
Station Eleven was so fantastic, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it a few months ago. It’s without a doubt the best book I’ve read this year so far. And I’ve already bought it as a present for two different people :)