Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Read by: Kirsten Potter

Published Year: 2014
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
Subtitle: Great (4 stars)

"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.

I completely lucked out choosing this one as audiobook, and I truly think this is the format to enjoy this novel! The narrator has an almost secret source of knowledge, and she was whispering that extra knowledge into my ear(buds). I really enjoyed listening to this story as an audiobook. I feel like if I had been reading it, the narrator would have felt cold and detached, with stark knowledge just written out on the page, rather than just imparting insider information to me. She was a friend, giving me that extra bit of information on the side, with no nefarious intentions.

Clearly, I really liked this book. To be honest with you though, I wasn't sure how I felt about it at first, and also because it was audiobook, it took me longer to read/listen to. But, this meant I had a longer chance to enjoy it. I was immersed in the novel's world for a much longer time than I'm used to, and it forced me to think about what it would be like to continue living in a world if civilization collapsed around us. It was an interesting idea, and I really liked being forced to consider that for myself. 

I was disconcerted, at first, by the timeline and the different points of view. By part three, though, when the author started tying things together, I loved everything about it. I'm pretty sure I gasped aloud at parts. Brilliantly done. I couldn't wait to see what else she would do with the characters and their stories. I kept hoping for more connections, actually. She left some of them out, and I was disappointed that I didn't get to see more! But I can't have everything I suppose.

I loved the characters and their stories. All of them were beautifully told; even the ones I didn't like, I wanted to hear more of their story. I wanted to know where they came from, what their lives were like before, and how they ended up where they were after. Kirsten was strong and passionate, and if I was on the other side of the apocalypse I'd want to be like her. Jeevan-after was so much more himself than Jeevan-before that I was happy for him! Clark was probably my favorite character, throughout the whole thing, before and after. The Prophet, Miranda, Arthur, Augustus, Syed, all the others were just so interesting, that I was ultimately fascinated.

I definitely think this one is worth your time, but I highly recommend going for it as an audiobook. You really get drawn into the world, and the narration is just beautiful.

4 out of 5 stars.