2014 National Book Award Finalist
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 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.
From the Hardcover edition.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
You’ve never encountered a post-apocalyptic tale quite like Station Eleven, which follows (among other things) a troupe of Shakespearean actors who traverse the blasted American Midwest to keep the spirit of theater and music alive. Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel is sure to put this indie darling on the map. Her writing is startlingly elegant, and the interwoven stories of the book’s characters—who yearn for long-gone comforts like TV sitcoms, airplanes, and the Internet—seem splendidly and heartbreakingly real.
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.
Better over time
For some reason I had a hard time getting into this story. It just didn’t go anywhere for me. But funny how a pandemic will change your perspective on an apocalypse story. Since finishing I’ve thought about these characters and what they endured through quite a lot - it’s a beautiful and hopeful idea of humanity and the world steadily moving forward.
Well-crafted, entertaining read, particularly in these Covid times.
Some parts were better than others
I was waiting for the book to get really good. It would get there, then go back downwards. And I thought it would be more at the ending