Station Eleven was published in 2014 and authored by Emily St. John Mandel. A finalist for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, Station Eleven tells several interweaving stories of characters who have survived the end of civilization as we know it.
This book has been one that has been featured on so many people’s MUST READ lists so I was super excited to finally get my hands on it (Thanks to Half Price Books coupon week! @halfpricebooks)
Station Eleven opens with Arthur Leander, a 51-year old Hollywood superstar who is starting to slip from the spotlight. Still well-known and liked enough to draw a crowd, Arthur is performing a stage production of King Lear in Toronto. On the night that the world changes, Arthur collapses on stage and dies of a heart attack. On this same night we learn that there is a flu going around that is swift and deadly. A plane came in to Toronto from Russia earlier that day; all of the passengers of that flight are already dead and many of the medical personnel who were treating them have fallen ill. The situation is clear, If you’re exposed to this flu, you will die.
After the flu has ravaged the Earth, we find the Traveling Symphony. The Symphony is a band of survivors who perform Shakespeare and symphonic productions for townships, believing in the power of art and music and that, as Star Trek so wisely put it, “survival is insufficient.” The Symphony travels through one of their usual towns to find a new and haunting situation unfolding. The town has been taken over by a man who calls himself The Prophet. The Prophet rules the town with his followers, believing that they are “the light” and that they survived the Georgia Flu for this reason, to bring “the light” to others. But they do so through intimidating towns, kidnapping children to be child brides and killing anyone who crosses them. As is wise, the Traveling Symphony leaves in a quick minute. Our main insight into the Symphony, and the world After, is a young actress named Kirsten Raymonde. Kirsten was a young child when the Georgia Flu destroyed the population and has hardly any memory of life before the Flu and Symphony. Her most vivid memory is of performing King Lear with Arthur Leander. Kirsten was in the production as a child and she was on stage with Arthur the night that he died of a heart attack. Kirsten remembers only that Arthur was nice to her and that he gave her her most prized possession; the comic book, Station Eleven.
Station Eleven is the great love and project of Arthur’s first wife, Miranda. Jumping back in time, Miranda is an extremely talented artist and has worked on the Station Eleven comic book for much of her adult life. She creates a world that is haunting and beautiful, a world that has been destroyed and whose citizens must find a way to survive. It is her most important work, and eerily similar to what the world will have to endure just years later. Miranda and Arthur end up divorcing but even so, when Miranda finally finishes Station Eleven, she makes sure that Arthur receives 2 copies of the comic book, one of which he gives to Kirsten Raymonde. But where is the second copy?….
Arthur marries a second time to one of his co-stars, Elizabeth. With Elizabeth he has a son, Tyler. Elizabeth and Tyler survive the Georgia Flu but it breaks something in Elizabeth. She has always been someone who believes that things happen for a reason – she believes this so fiercely that she knows she and her son were saved from the Georgia Flu. They were good, or better at least, than those who died and so were allowed to live.
Arthur, Kirsten, Miranda, Elizabeth, Tyler – they’re all connected and for most of the book, we don’t know how or why. I won’t give any more plot because I don’t want to give away the ending. My favorite part of Station Eleven was Mandel’s world building, or rather, world breaking. She builds a world that is so primitive and so scary because we know what used to be. Also, the story jumps back and forth through time so much that Mandel’s ability to bring everything together is really impressive. My one beef with Station Eleven is that I wish we knew more about The Prophet. He is the catalyst for much of the movement in the story and when you find out how he fits in with everyone else, it is really great, but as a standalone character, we really don’t know that much about him. For me, Station Eleven was one of those books that I think my final opinion would’ve been more glittering if there wasn’t so much hype around it. That said, I would definitely recommend this book to pretty much anyone – it has so many elements to it, mystery, love, action, etc. that I think most anyone that just likes to read, will enjoy this book.