Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel #RRSciFiMonth

station-11I’ve just finished reading Station Eleven and absolutely loved it. I bought this book such a long time ago and since then have seen plenty of glowing reviews but for some reason I’ve hesitated to pick it up.  I don’t think I really knew what to expect when I started to read and perhaps that was a good thing.  What I did know was that it was a book about the end of civilisation and so I admit I was expecting a rather gloomy and foreboding read.  What I found instead was a book that was actually quite beautiful with a cast of really well drawn characters whose lives touch in meaningful ways as the story unfolds. I was absolutely fascinated by this story and could barely tear myself away from the pages.

At the start of the novel we make the introduction of Arthur Leander, a successful actor currently appearing in a theatre production of King Leah who unfortunately suffers a heart attack and dies on stage. Jeevan Chaudhary is watching the play with his girlfriend and being a newly qualified EMT has recognised the signs and has rushed to Arthur’s aid.  Meanwhile, watching the drama from the wings is a child actress named Kirsten Raymonde.  This scene will remain one of her few memories of the time before the collapse of civilisation.  Basically, the world is about to be devastated by a fast acting mutated flu virus that, much like the plague, will kill so many people that humans almost face extinction.

From here the plot does quite a lot of jumping around, back and forth to the years before the collapse and then jumping to approximately 20 years after and we get to follow the lives of these main characters as their paths intersect or once again come together.  I have to applaud the style used here as really Arthur, having died in the opening stages of the book, should have very little input into the story but instead the way in which the story is told allows him to become the central focus for all the other characters, he’s the sun and they’re all orbiting him in some way.

In the pre collapse years we observe Arthur on his path to fame and fortune, his three failed marriages and ultimately his reflections on his own life just shortly before he passes away. It very much feels like Arthur has been acting out his own life rather than really living it, moving through the motions and casually dropping people along the way. His first wife Miranda is the one who has the biggest impact on him and although the relationship is ultimately doomed the two clearly still share feelings for each other.  Miranda in fact also has an impact on the story.  She’s an unusual character who seems herself to be something of a loner.  Her life’s work has revolved around a graphic novel called Station Eleven that not only gives the book it’s title but has quite an impact on a couple of the key people.  Station Eleven has an almost prophetic feel to it – we don’t really gain an insight into the full plot but we are given certain snippets.  It seems that Miranda, at certain points is inserting parts of her own story into that of her graphic novel but in terms of other elements there is a strange reflective quality for what takes place in later years.  For example, Station Eleven is a small space station, shaped like a planet, that due to damage is ultimately covered with water and little remote islands.  Thinking about the environment after the collapse the towns themselves, whilst not surrounded by water, are themselves like isolated islands.  There is no quick means of travelling from A to B and no way of easily connecting with other people.  No phones, no internet, no planes or cars.

In the later years of the story we follow in the tracks of a theatre company called The Travelling Symphony.  An eclectic bunch of characters who travel from town to town providing entertainment and music to the people they come across.  It’s not an easy life – travelling in between places is dangerous to say the least, food must be hunted for but occasionally the relationships that spring up between the performers makes everything a little more easy to endure.  Kirsten is a member of the company.  Only a child before the collapse she remembers very little of civilisation.  She has a tattoo on her arm that is a quote from Star Trek – even though she has no real memory of the show itself.  She knows that as a child she experienced electricity, lighting at the flick of a switch, travel using planes and cars and yet these things are but distant memories – she knows they were a part of her life before but really she can’t recall them and they have a dreamlike quality in this new era of darkness.

At this point the plot diverges a little when the Travelling Symphony return to a town they previously played at, St. Deborah by the Water, but which seems to have undergone something of a transformation.  It seems that the town is now in the grip of a new gang of characters headed by somebody known as ‘The Prophet’.  Clearly St Deborah is not a safe place to travel through any longer and the travelling thespians leave in something of a hurry.

There were a number of things that I really loved about this book.  First and foremost is the author’s ability to make these characters stand out.  Their stories are so intriguing that I was captivated by them all.  What makes this an even more impressive feat is that this isn’t a doorstopper sized novel and yet the author makes each of these characters compelling to read about.  I literally cared for them and was in places scared for their safety.  Which brings me to the next thing that really impressed me.  Yes, this is a book that could be very dismal to read but it isn’t.  We read about the slow collapse of so many things that we take for granted in our every day lives but rather than turn this into a blood battle with gangs of almost feral packs of people committing unspeakable acts in the name of survival, the book focuses on the people who are surviving and the lives they’re leading.  Undoubtedly, over the years, terrible things have happened, and most of the survivors have the scars that bear witness to such acts but I found this intriguing and hopeful rather than gloomy and dreadful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Station 11 which is borne out by the fact that I devoured the book so quickly and have no hesitation in recommending it.  If you want a compelling story full of heart then definitely give this a try.

This is my first book as part of Sci Fi month 2016.  Details here if you want to come and enjoy the fun.







34 Responses to “Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel #RRSciFiMonth”

  1. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This sounds like a very refreshing take on the theme of the end of the world as we know it, and I like the idea that – in spite of the dire consequences of the dramatic event at the root of it all – it gives *hope* for the future: too many stories/shows prefer to concentrate on the most truculent sides of of a post-apocalyptic event, so a book like this one seems a very rare gem. One for the TBR pile, indeed, thank you for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’d love to see what you make of it to be honest.
      Lynn 😀

  2. sjhigbee

    I really MUST give this one a second chance! Thank you for a great review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Ohh, did you not like it first time around then – it does seem to have a divided opinion from the bloggers who originally commented. I liked that it was different from what I expected. It felt much more character led rather than the usual grim, scavenging for food and acting like animals approach that I’ve read about in so many books of this style. Then again, I didn’t really know what the book was going to be about – I think if I”d been expecting a post apocalyptic style book maybe I would have been more disappointed. I’m not sure.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        To be honest, I don’t know what I was looking for – probably a space opera along the lines of ‘Planetfall’ – but I was also rather grumpy when I opened up the book and looking back, I don’t think I gave it a fair go.

      • @lynnsbooks

        Haha – mood definitely does affect your reading.
        Lynn 😀

  3. Carmen

    I’m glad you loved Station Eleven as most bloggers I follow have. I have this one on my TBR; I hope to read it soon.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It does seem to divide some bloggers but I loved it and I hope you do too. Look forward to your review.
      Lynn 😀

  4. cupcakesandmachetes

    I read the first paragraph of your review and skipped the rest as I’ll be starting it soon, but I am glad to hear that it was good!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I thought it was excellent to be honest. I hope you enjoy it and will keep my eyes open for your review.
      Lynn 😀

      • cupcakesandmachetes

        I started it last night and so far I like the writing style and the story grabbed me right away.

      • @lynnsbooks

        It’s really intriguing and I love the way it takes you back and gives you the history of the characters before everything went haywire!
        Lynn 😀

  5. jenclair

    Yay! I did, too!

  6. tethyanbooks

    I thought this one was going to be a real downer, too, so I avoided it until recently. I agree that it was beautiful (and even hopeful!), even though it was an apocalyptic novel. I’m dreadfully behind in my reviews, but will probably write about this one in the coming weeks.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was very unique in that respect. I’m used to my post apocalyptic type novels being incredibly grim. This has been written in a way that implies that plenty of horrible stuff has undoubtedly taken place, but it isn’t the main focus of the story. Of course there is an element of fear and tension but this just focused more on the main players.
      I’ll keep my eye out for your review.
      Lynn 😀

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Gah, I really hope I can squeeze this one into my November reading schedule! It’s been on my tbr since its release, I really need to get to it soon.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I can’t believe you’ve not read it – I thought I was the last person on the planet not to have done so! It was really good. Totally not what I was expecting at all.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Tammy

    Great review, Lynn. This is one of my all time favorite books. I’m due for a reread one of these days:-)

    • Tammy

      Oh and how about that perfect ending??

      • @lynnsbooks

        I couldn’t believe how the author managed to tie up all the threads to be honest – it was an excellent achievement. I wondered if the ending was kind of leaving an opening for more to follow?

    • @lynnsbooks

      It was excellent – totally not what I was expecting and so unusual for a post apocalypse style story.

  9. nrlymrtl

    I really liked Miranda and her graphic novel and how that affected others in the story. I kind of hope for either a sequel where we get more Miranda graphic novels or spinoff that is the graphic novel.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I thought Miranda was a really good character – to be honest I would have liked more from her too.
      Lynn 😀

  10. ‘These are the voyages of one blogger… to boldly read’ #RRSciFiMonth | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – I’ve already completed and loved this book – I highly recommend it and my review is here. […]

  11. Rinn

    Ahh wasn’t this just gorgeous?? I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect either, I just knew that so many people seemed to love it. It was slow and there wasn’t really much of a plot as such, or much action at least, but that really worked for me. I wonder if perhaps I’d been in a different reading mood then I might not have enjoyed it quite as much, but as it was I really loved it. So unique.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I imagine that if you went into this expecting the typical post apocalyptic read you could have been disappointed but I just loved it and it’s odd because when you consider it there really wasn’t much of a plot and very little action to speak of. I think it was just the characters for me – so well developed, which I suppose was as a result of the author leaving the action to one side.
      Lynn 😀

  12. Amanda @Cover2CoverMom

    Wow you read and review this one quickly! I also enjoyed how different this one was from the typical post apocalyptic novel.

  13. Lauren @ Always Me

    Wonderful review! I loved this novel!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It really is a lovely story with excellent characters.
      Lynn 😀

  14. Greg

    End of civilization tales usually appeal to me but I admit being unsure of this one, although I’ve read a lot of reviews. It’s sort of my maybe shelf but I have to say I’m leaning towards reading it. It definitely sounds character focused and maybe that’s why it doesn’t look like the usual post apoc book. And yours is the first review to mention what “Station Eleven” actually refers to- I’ve been wondering. 🙂 So thanks for that. Nice thoughtful review.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – one of the things that really worked for me with this book was that it definitely wasn’t a typical post apoc book. I loved the characterisation and thought it was just really well done. I hope you get the opportunity to give it a chance. I’d like to know what you make of it.
      Lynn 😀

  15. November: My month in review | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel #RRSciFiMonth […]

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    […] St John Mandel – Station Eleven.  I wanted to read this for such a long time but sometimes get a bit turned off by sci-fi but […]

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    […] of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough, The Hike by Drew Magary, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J […]

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