Book Review – Station Eleven

Station Eleven is the first book that I have read by Emily St. John Mandel and is the one that has been her most successful novel so far. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Kirsten Potter. The book was a National Book Award finalist and was also adapted for a recent series on HBO Max.

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Here is the blurb:

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.


This was an odd book and is more literary than what I usually read. But despite being a bit out of my comfort zone, I did enjoy it. The opening chapter that describes Arthur Leander’s on-stage heart attack, and the segue into the outbreak of the Georgia flu, hooked my interest enough that when the story meandered to other characters, I remained engaged with the tale.

Station Eleven was published in 2014. After experiencing 2020 and the outbreak of COVID-19, the actions of people who were confronted with this fictional plague in Station Eleven were eerily true to how people behaved as the world shut down.

Through the book, the title’s Station Eleven graphic novel is developed by a secondary character and influences the rest of these linked people in their separate lives. This creation is described in a few short passages that contain such engaging details that I wish it truly existed so that I could read it as an adjunct work.

I’m currently the latest release by the same author – The Sea of Tranquility – so expect a review on that one soon.

Have you read Station Eleven? Have you watched the series? Let me know in the comments above. I will have to subscribe to HBO Max soon so that I can see it.

Find more of my book reviews here.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alexis Alvarez
    May 27, 2022 @ 13:24:35

    Read it a while ago and loved it. Incredibly well written and thoughtful, resonant both intellectually and emotionally.

    I started watching the series, but it was a bit painful — would like to get back to it soon.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Book Review – Parable of the Sower | Clare L. Deming
  3. Trackback: Book Review – Sea of Tranquility | Clare L. Deming

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