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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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Station Eleven (2014)

by Emily St. John Mandel

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3,9803711,285 (4.1)647
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English (367)  All (1)  German (1)  All (369)
Showing 1-5 of 367 (next | show all)
Not ground breaking but a strong effort. End of the world without the zombies, an excellent look at the human spirit in all it's strengths, weaknesses and complexities. ( )
  kallai7 | Mar 23, 2017 |
Simply riveting. Emily St. John Mandel makes a passing reference within her story to Justin Cronin's The Passage, another popular post-apocalyptic novel, but if I'm to compare the two, I like Station Eleven more. Telling the story of a shattered world is to tell the story through the eyes of a handful of its inhabitants. Emily St. John Mandel manages this balance just right. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Mar 22, 2017 |
Audiobook narrated by Kirsten Potter

An actor collapses on stage during a performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear. An EMT in the audience rushes to his aid. The child actress playing one of Lear’s daughters, Kirsten, is distraught. The snow falling on Toronto gives the city a peaceful look, but the hysteria caused by a spreading plague that kills within days cannot be stopped. Twenty years later, Kirsten is an actress in a troupe of entertainers calling themselves the Traveling Symphony.

In general I am not a fan of dystopian or postapocalyptic novels, but I found this work quite interesting. Mandel moves back and forth in time, and from character to character, keeping the reader off balance. But I imagine the characters would have felt pretty lost and off balance after the catastrophic end of civilization as they knew it. Eventually the various threads of the plot are woven together, and, while things are not “back to normal,” there seems to be some hope for the future of mankind.

Kirsten is a strong female lead character – resourceful, determined, intelligent. I also really liked Clark and Jeevan, and wish Mandel had spent a little more time with those characters.

Kirsten Potter does a fine job narrating the audio version. However, the nonlinear plot, the changes in point of view from character to character, and the movement back and forth in time, make for a confusing experience. As soon as I finished the audio, I read the text version, picking up many more of the connections between characters and plot points. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 12, 2017 |
In the wake of a disastrous pandemic that marked the end of civilization as we know it, a group of traveling actors and musicians goes from settlement to settlement, performing Shakespeare and Beethoven for the scattered remnants of humanity. This story weaves in and out of their lives, going back to the days of the Collapse and before, bringing together threads of a narrative about an actor, a prophet, a graphic novel, a museum. This is a lovely, terrifying sort of story, though ultimately uplifting and hopeful. I listened to parts of it before bed one evening -- in retrospect, not my best idea, but I was so caught up in it that I could hardly bear to press pause. The audiobook narration is nicely done, and the book itself is immensely compelling. If you have any interest in post-apocalyptic stories, this is one you shouldn't miss. ( )
  foggidawn | Feb 22, 2017 |
Station Eleven sparked my imagination like no book had for a long time. This post-apocalyptic novel presents a vividly created world and a setting that is atmospheric, both chilling and beautiful. I would say it is a dystopian novel related to the works of Cormac McCarthy and J.G. Ballard. I think Emily St John Mandel resembles Ballard in her visual imagination and ability to portray a civilisation breaking down, although Station Eleven presents a much less bleak and cynical view of human nature and society than Ballard’s works.

The novel opens when a famous actor, Arthur, collapses and dies on stage playing King Lear in a theatre in Toronto. At around the same time a flu pandemic begins to spread throughout the world, killing the majority of the world's population and causing a complete breakdown of the modern, technologically advanced society we know. The novel then moves forward twenty years to follow Kirsten, who was a child actress on stage with Arthur in the production of King Lear and is now a member of the Travelling Symphony, a band of actors and musicians performing Shakespeare plays in the settlements that have developed following the pandemic. The novel also follows various other characters, all connected with Arthur in some way, and mixes present-day events with flashbacks to their lives before the collapse.

I found Station Eleven completely absorbing and very inventive. Set in a recognisable, everyday world, the effects of the pandemic are plausible and realistic. The pandemic is gripping and frightening to read about, but this section is relatively short. The main action of the novel, set twenty years later, has a distinctive tone of nostalgia for the world we live in now, which I found interesting. The characters longingly remember everyday objects and technology that most of us take for granted. St John Mandel also explores how this nostalgia affects different generations. Children born after the collapse know nothing else and consider descriptions of, for example, electricity as incredible fairy stories. Alternatively, they show no interest at all. The book asks if those who are older adults and spent most of their lives in the pre-pandemic world are more or less fortunate, as they have lost more but have a greater store of memories to recall. Kirsten falls somewhere in between, as she was eight years old and therefore has only a few, almost dream-like, memories. I wondered if this was the most difficult position to be in, as Kirsten and her friend are constantly searching through abandoned buildings trying to find tokens of civilisation, such as books half-remembered from childhood or magazine photos of Arthur.

In this novel, material objects are repositories of memory. Trivial objects attain an intense significance to people once they become scarce. One of the older characters sets up a Museum of Civilisation, in which items such as laptops, phones, shoes and newspapers are preserved. The importance of the museum is to keep the memory of the former world alive, both for those who knew it and those who never experienced it. The book has an elegiac tone and creates a distance from the present-day world that made me see it as more precarious.

In fact, the novel really succeeded in making me imagine what it would be like to live in a world where modern civilisation had disappeared. It is always implicit in the novel that it would be impossible to communicate with anyone elsewhere in the world, and that without the internet or even a postal service, you would never know what had happened to people you were separated from at the time of the pandemic. I think for me this is the most striking aspect of this imagined world.

Although it is disturbing, I felt the novel also imagines a certain beauty in a post-technological age, describing how, following the pandemic, plants and animals start to encroach on the built environment humans had created, or how the stars appear much brighter at night. It creates parallels with the Shakespearean age, when plague frequently swept through London, and makes it seem appropriate that the Travelling Symphony perform only Shakespeare plays to their audiences. Nevertheless, I agree with other reviews I have read that it is strange that no one seems to create any new art or music after the collapse. I don't know if this is a deliberate decision by the author, to show that people would concentrate on survival to such an extent that the creation of art would be an impossibility. Another unexpected aspect of this world is that traditional religion seems to be almost entirely absent, and in its place new cults have emerged in certain settlements. Again, the novel never mentions traditional religion so I wondered if its disappearance was something the author felt would be inevitable in these circumstances.

The post-pandemic world begins as a violent and dangerous place in which many people are killed and those who survive are traumatised. However the novel keeps returning to the fact that, after twenty years, the world is becoming kinder and more civilised again. I felt that the author sees civilisation as a strong, perhaps innate, human impulse that can survive almost anything. Even with the limited resources they have, people start newspapers, libraries and, of course, the theatre of the Travelling Symphony. I don't describe it well but in the novel it is a very moving and powerful theme. There is almost the sense that a new cycle of history is starting, which will rebuild what has been lost.

Perhaps because there was such a large cast of characters, some were memorable, while others, such as Kirsten's friends in the Travelling Symphony, weren't particularly distinctive. I felt sympathetic towards Kirsten, who is perhaps the character the reader identifies with and follows the most. Jeevan, a paparazzo who photographs Arthur, was one of my favourite characters, as I found him likeable and the scenes involving his brother Frank moving. I also found Clark, Arthur's friend, very sympathetic. Although I enjoyed the flashback parts of the novel, I never particularly grasped what everyone saw in Arthur and was unsure whether he was powerful enough as the central pivot for all the other characters. To me, Miranda was one of the most interesting characters, an artist and very private person who I felt prioritised her art and internal, imaginative life above everything else, organising her existence so she could concentrate on the creation of her new world.

Overall, I would recommend Station Eleven as a beautiful and unsettling novel that lives in the memory long after reading.
  papercat | Feb 18, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 367 (next | show all)
I hate apocalyptic fiction. But this tale of the end of a civilisation shows how even in the ruins, humanity can preserve its virtues
 
Station Eleven is not so much about apocalypse as about memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning; the effort of art to deepen our fleeting impressions of the world and bolster our solitude. Mandel evokes the weary feeling of life slipping away, for Arthur as an individual and then writ large upon the entire world.
added by zhejw | editThe Guardian, Justine Jordan (Sep 25, 2014)
 
Survival may indeed be insufficient, but does it follow that our love of art can save us? If “Station Eleven” reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it 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 that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.
added by zhejw | editNew York Times, Sigrid Nunez (Sep 12, 2014)
 
Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.
added by sturlington | editKirkus Reviews (Jun 17, 2014)
 
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Epigraph
The bright side of the planet moves toward darkness
And the cities are falling asleep, each in its hour,
And for me, now as then, it is too much.
There is too much world.
—Czeslaw Milosz
The Separate Notebooks
Dedication
In Memory of Emilie Jacobson
First words
The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored. This was act 4 of King Lear, a winter night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.
Quotations
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.
There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt.
I was here for the end of electricity.
He would jettison everything that could possibly be thrown overboard, this weight of money and possessions, and in this casting off he'd be a lighter man.
We traveled so far and your friendship meant everything. It was very difficult, but there were moments of beauty. Everything ends. I am not afraid.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
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 performance 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 goodbyes, 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.

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"An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, from the author of three highly acclaimed previous novels. 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 TravelingSymphony, 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"--… (more)

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