Saturday, June 29, 2019

Station Eleven: Emily St. John Mandel

This book got a lot of hype when it first came out, but I did not pay much attention. I prefer to wait and see before trying newer books, whether they have been hyped or not. If my husband had not bought a copy, I might still be waiting to read it.

From the synopsis at the author's website:
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 Travelling 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.

The apocalyptic event in this story is the Georgia Flu, so named because it started in the Republic of Georgia. The famous Hollywood actor is Arthur Leander, feeling his age and about to divorce his third wife. Although he dies at about the same time the apocalyptic event starts to affect Canada and the United States, much of the story follows his life and the people who were important to him. Another focus is the Travelling Symphony, how they function, and how they have survived. One character in that group is Kirsten, a young actress who had a small part in the play Arthur was performing in at the time of his death.

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic story, and I do like that sub-genre. But the book has many other characteristics I like. The state of the world without the internet, travel by automobile or airplane, electricity, and many other things we take for granted is an important factor in this book. But it is the story of the interconnections of people and how they adapt to changes in their lives that makes it special.

What did I like?


  • The story was unified by two strands, Arthur's story and the Travelling Symphony. I loved the way the story moved about in time, how the relationships are interwoven and how the characters connect in the end.
  • I liked the author's style; I had a hard time putting this book down. I read it in two days, which was pretty fast for me, especially this month. 
  • I liked the contrast between the older people who have memories of life before the flu and the young people who had no memories of the different ways of living.
  • This is not a long book (333 pages) and it follows quite a few characters but there are several characters that we get to know quite well. Arthur and Kirsten are pivotal characters. Others are Javeen Chaudhury, an EMT in training; Clark, Arthur's best friend since college; Miranda, Arthur's first wife.


See other reviews ...



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Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Length:       333 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     Starts out in Toronto, where Arthur is performing in a play. 
                   Some scenes are in Hollywood. 
                   The Travelling Symphony travels along Michigan's northern coast.
Genre:        Post-apocalyptic fiction
Source:       My husband passed this book on to me.


19 comments:

  1. Post-apocalypse novels terrify me. It all seems likely to happen now. I read this for my book group. And I also went to hear her speak. It was well-done and she was very engaging in person. Plus Michigan was in it a lot. My book group liked it a lot.

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    1. I must compartmentalize the post-apocalyptic novels, Patti, thinking of them as science fiction / fantasy and not likely to happen. Dystopian novels, such as The Handmaid's Tale bother me more. I read that when it came out and it did disturb me, and I would not read it now.

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  2. I don't usually go for post-apocalyptic stories, Tracy. But I'm intrigued by the theatre context of this one. And the characters really do sound fascinating. The time shifting sounds effective, too. Glad you enjoyed it, and I'm going to tell my husband (who does read post-apocalyptic stories) about it.

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    1. The theatrical group that travels around is very intriguing, Margot, and adds much to the story. Some of the story also centers around a graphic novel that was given to Kirsten by Arthur, and that part was very interesting.

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  3. I've been very tempted by this one, but have yet to get round to it. You've pushed it up the list a bit.

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    1. I like the author's writing and the way she tells the story, John, and I plan to read more that she has written.

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  4. Where have I been? I don't even remember hearing about this one, but then like you I rarely read the books of the moment. I'll look out for it though.

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    1. I probably noticed it more because of the Canadian connection, Katrina. I like to read about Canada. This one was split between locations in the US and Canada, but the author is Canadian by birth.

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  5. I read this a year or two ago, and thought it was pretty good. Then, upon reflection, I changed my opinion and thought it was quite good. It grew on me. Not enough to reread it, I don't think, but enough to raise my opinion.

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    1. I would not mind re-reading this book someday, Rick. There are so many things I enjoyed about it. But there are so many books to read, so it might not happen.

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    2. You're right about that; so many books!

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  6. I enjoyed this but wasn't at all impressed by it. It's really not as original or startlingly new as most of the hype was promising. I liked the trilogy "The Last Policeman" trilogy more for a dystopian/end-of-the-world theme that felt more authentic in its depiction of lawlessness, anarchy, paranoia and ultimately sublime acceptance. This book is docile in comparison.

    I thought due to the success of this book she just gave up writing. But I see she has a thriller drawing from the recent plague of Ponzi schemes, THE GLASS HOTEL, coming out in 2020.

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    1. I liked the Last Policeman trilogy too, John. I think I liked the first book in the trilogy best, but all of them were good.

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  7. We did this book in our book club too. I liked it a great deal. And I liked the Michigan setting.

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    1. I enjoyed both the Toronto setting and the Michigan setting, Rich. Those are places I have never seen.

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  8. Not one with a massive appeal for me I'm afraid.

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    1. Station Eleven is more my type of reading than yours, Col.

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  9. Interesting - I am not a big fan of dystopian fiction usually, but loved this one. From john's comment above, perhaps for others it's the other way round! I would definitely read more by her.

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    1. Moira, I am a fan of dystopian fiction so I have to be careful not to jump at any new book of that type, but I have been lucky lately. I especially liked the way this one tied threads together in the end.

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