Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Kindle
Length: 336 pages
Description from Goodreads:

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.

Hands down, this is the best book I’ve read all year. The story starts off strong, with a death in the first chapter, and the second chapter ending with the line:

“Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.”

As soon as I read this line, I knew I was going to love this book. Talk about a good hook. A lot of the chapters end in this abrupt, cliffhanger way, making this a tough book to put down.

From the beginning, I thought that this might wind up being one of my favorite books of the year, but I didn’t even really comprehend how much I was going to enjoy this book at that moment.

It may seem like I’m exaggerating here, but I’m really not. My one complaint with the book is that there are some issues with vague character identification early on, but looking back I think that might have been an intentional choice.

In the beginning, we follow a traveling symphony, but a lot of the characters are only referred to by their instrument, which was confusing at times, but also kind of makes sense in a world where life as we know it is no more. Everything is different now and a person’s identity just isn’t as important as it used to be; now the most important thing is just to survive.

There also wasn’t much physical description for these characters, which also contributed to their vagueness and that theme.

This book is set around a plague that has wiped out most of the population, and is told non-linearly so that we get to see life before, during, and after the collapse of society.

I thought this was masterfully done, especially towards the end. The first part of the book largely takes place about twenty years after society’s collapse, but as the story progresses, we see more of life before and during the pandemic, leading back up to the present day.

There are so many little details sprinkled in that felt so believable (well, for the most part at least…) like the stars in the night sky being exceptionally bright, brighter than people had ever seen due to the end of electricity and the end of light pollution.

She also perfectly weaves together the different storylines and timelines. For example, people from the future coming into contact with objects, people, or places from the storylines in the past. And even though there are all of these separate timelines spaced so far apart, the characters all feel so interconnected, and not in a way that seems forced.

Beyond being an enthralling story, this book was a terrifying glimpse into the very real possibility of a societal collapse that no one is prepared for.

If you’re a fan of things like World War Z or The Walking Dead (both zombies and not plagues, I know, but with a very similar vibe), you definitely need to give this book a read.

5 thoughts on “Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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