By: Emily St. John Mandel
# of pages: 336
Challenge: Full House (Canadian author)
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.
My opinion: On Facebook, Goodreads posted a link to an article that claims to list the best dystopian fiction. Several people wrote that they were disappointed not to see Station Eleven on the list. I had never heard of Station Eleven, but I looked it up after seeing it mentioned so many times. Now I’ve finished reading it and it didn’t disappoint.
The novel follows a selection of characters that (even though not all of them know it), were all connected in the past when the world was “normal.” We learn about Arthur, Clark, Miranda, Jeevan, and Kirsten both before and after the collapse. The story bounces back and forth between the characters and the different time lines. At first I wasn’t sure I liked that method since I was afraid I would lose track of what was happening with each character or that my questions wouldn’t be answered. However, it worked very well and I enjoyed each of the stories. The method puts the reader right into the minds of the characters and into the situation. It’s interesting to see how the characters associated a death of an actor with the beginning of the “apocalypse.”
I’d classify this novel as both post-apocalyptic and dystopian. We see how society is ruined and then slowly emerges as something different. In some ways the new life is freeing and in other ways it’s terrifying. In the questions section on Goodreads, readers were asking why, after 20 years, the society wasn’t more advanced. But that’s what this book is about. Survival comes first, but slowly other things take shape. It’s interesting to think about how the arts (in this case music and theater) and preservation (teaching and displaying parts of history) fit in with survival and advancement.
What are some of your favorite post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian novels? Have you read Station Eleven? If so, what did you think?
Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: Original story line and an interesting way of thinking about “the end of the world,” didn’t completely draw me in since I feel the multiple characters kept me from completely connecting with just one or two.