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 have been a huge fan of Emily St. John Mandel since I read her debut, Last Night in Montreal and have been thrilled to watch her evolution as a writer with each subsequent novel. And now, in her fourth book, the utterly amazing Station Eleven, St. John Mandel has achieved such success with its nomination for the National Book Award. And this is certainly a novel that deserves that nomination (and I say the win!)
How to describe this book... A dystopian novel? An ode to theater and classical music? A book on our individual searches for meaning in a world that seems to care little for us? A meditation on today?
It is all of these, and more. The book opens in a Toronto theater where a famous Hollywood actor dies onstage playing his dream role. And then all hell breaks loose as the world, as we know it, ends. St. John Mandel then tells a story, dancing back and forth in time, of a group called the Traveling Symphony wanders what remains of the Michigan and Ontario area. She focuses on five people, and how their lives intersect (either before or after the end of the world). This novel is breathtakingly beautiful. St. John Mandel's writing is superb. The reader feels as if they are looking over the character's backs, so immediate and real is the prose. This also makes this book terrifying at times. Imagine a world without electricity, without the conveniences so quickly necessary. No guaranteed safety our society provides. Yet the author also brings out the hope and humanity of this new world, while writing a lovesong to our age, almost as if she is reminding us not to take it all for granted. There were whole sections I reread, either to absorb the story as connections were revealed, or simply to enjoy the beautiful prose. This is a novel to savor, but it is so deliciously good, you will want to devour it. Buy it for yourself, but if for your friends because you're going to want to talk about it.
Station Eleven was for me, the best book I read in 2014. Seeing this talented young author nominated for the National Book Award made me glad to see others feel the same way. And it excites me, because it means so many more readers will now get a chance to find out what us Indie Booksellers have been saying for years... Emily St. John Mandel is a must-read! Read this latest, then go back and read her first three. Trust me, you'll be very glad you did!"