Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
2014 National Book Award Finalist. 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 book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.
The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book.
I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.
For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.
So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.