Summary and book reviews of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel X
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains - this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, 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.

Excerpt
Station Eleven

Jeevan's understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he'd seen a lot of action movies. He started with water, filled one of the oversized shopping carts with as many cases and bottles as he could fit. There was a moment of doubt on the way to the cash registers, straining against the weight of the cart—was he overreacting?—but there was a certain momentum now, too late to turn back. The clerk raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

"I'm parked just outside," he said. "I'll bring the cart back." The clerk nodded, tired. She was young, early twenties probably, with dark bangs that she kept pushing out of her eyes. He forced the impossibly heavy cart outside and half-pushed, half-skidded through the snow at the exit. There was a long ramp down into a small park-like arrangement of benches and planters. The cart gained speed on the incline, bogged down in deep snow at the bottom of the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Now that you've read the entire novel, go back and reread the passage by Czeslaw Milosz that serves as an epigraph. What does it mean? Why did Mandel choose it to introduce Station Eleven?

  2. Does the novel have a main character? Who would you consider it to be?

  3. Arthur Leander dies while performing King Lear, and the Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare's works. On page 57, Mandel writes, "Shakespeare was the third born to his parents, but the first to survive infancy. Four of his siblings died young. His son, Hamnet, died at eleven and left behind a twin. Plague closed the theaters again and again, death flickering over the landscape." How do Shakespearean motifs coincide with those of Station Eleven, both the novel and the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Everyone in the post-collapse world has lost someone; most have lost entire families, friends and lovers. Still, somehow, art persists – stories, drawings, music, and even Shakespearean language. "What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty." Mandel reminds readers to be grateful for all we possess and warns us how fragile this seemingly impervious technology-driven life actually is...continued

Full Review (778 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Mandel is an exuberant storyteller... Readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters' lives and fates... Station Eleven is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale... Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages... Station Eleven offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.

Entertainment Weekly
Rated A. Emily St. John Mandel's tender and lovely new novel, Station Eleven miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem... This is not a story of crisis and survival. It's one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes.

The Washington Post
A gorgeous retelling of Lear unfolds through Arthur's flashbacks and Kirsten's attempt to stay alive.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.

Booklist
Starred Review. In the burgeoning postapocalyptic literary genre, Mandel's transcendent, haunting novel deserves a place alongside The Road (2006), The Passage (2010), and The Dog Stars (2012).

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn't have put it down for anything.

Author Blurb Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers
Station Eleven is the kind of book that speaks to dozens of the readers in me - the Hollywood devotee, the comic book fan, the cult junkie, the love lover, the disaster tourist. It is a brilliant novel, and Emily St. John Mandel is astonishing.

Author Blurb Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
Station Eleven is a firework of a novel. Elegantly constructed and packed with explosive beauty, it's full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.

Author Blurb Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist
Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.

Reader Reviews

Kelli R.

Too Much Literary, Not Enough Dystopian
Station Eleven has received a lot of hype and accolades, and was listed on several "Best of 2014" lists. I do not disagree that this was a beautifully written and original story, but I suspect it will not stay with me - and hence, it earns ...   Read More
Mary

School mandatory read--not a sci-fi fan
Dry, dry, dry. It took me two months to get through this book. Boring!

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Beyond the Book

A Big Year for Dystopias

When Emily St. John Mandel was auctioning her novel, Station Eleven, in 2013, she was worried that the world was sick of dystopian fiction. "When I started writing, there were a few literary post-apocalyptic novels, but not quite the incredible glut that there is now…I was afraid the market might be saturated." Luckily for Mandel, the public is still hungry for speculative fiction; her book was sold for a six-figure advance.

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein coined the term "speculative fiction" in a 1947 essay. Broadly understood, it refers to stories that contain futuristic, fantastical, and/or supernatural elements. Some of the seminal works of speculative fiction are George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World...

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