Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Station Eleven surprised me.

I’m not much one for literary fiction, and end-of-the-world stories are starting to become a dime a dozen. For some reason though, I heard Book Riot raving about this one and the idea of a book taking place 20 years after a super flu kills off 99% of humanity and the story being about a traveling theater group just grabbed my interest, and I’m glad I splurged and bought it.

I’m going to use the Goodreads summary, since it does a good job:

“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.”

This book took me too long to finish, but that was really my fault because I was busy at work. I’m starting to think that worked in this book’s favor though – I’d read in bed and fall asleep with some heartbreaking or curious thought about the characters in my head, and it kind of haunted me in that beautiful way that well-written books has. Despite the narration being split between several different characters, I have the feeling that they’ll be staying with me. Their experiences were fascinating.

And now I admit, I’m trying to hurry through this because I want to get it posted so you all can be immediately convinced (because my powers of persuasion are that awesome) to read this. Bullets!

Things I really loved:

  • One of the female characters drew her own comics, which I personally delighted in since I’m such a new comics fan.
  • Seeing people persevere and continue on with the performing arts, despite the world essentially ending.
  • This end-of-the-world story was both bleak and hopeful.
  • Have I mentioned the beautiful writing? Pretty beautiful writing.
  • SO many quotable passages. I’ll stick some of my favorite quotes near the end.
  • How all of the characters are interconnected, and how if even one of them was removed or one of their stories had happened in a different way, it would have completely changed the trajectory of the story.

One tiny thing that kind of bothered me:

  • The basically complete lack of electricity and power. It’s been 20 years. Did NONE of the 1% who survived think to figure out how to A) either keep power running or B) figure out how to use other ways to generate power? Solar, wind, water… even a stationary bike can be used to generate power. In all fairness, the Symphony travels from town to town and maybe it just so happens that the small towns they visit haven’t managed this at all. But come on, the bookstores and Amazon warehouses are full of information to be learned and used. Stores and companies that sold and/or produced solar panels are just sitting there with stock to utilize. At one point, I think two characters are discussing some scientific theory… how the internet works, or multiverse theory, or something. And they’re debating it. I wanted to shout “GO TO A BOOKSTORE AND LOOK IT UP”.

Overall, this was a pretty fantastic book. Get your ends on it, read it, muse over the strength of humanity to survive. And now, some of my favorite quotes:

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. 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 stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.”

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

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8 comments

  1. I had the same thought about the electricity, but I think the issue is that there’s just not enough expertise focused in any one place. People may have survived who could, collectively, set up electricity again, but they’re not in the same place, and they have no good means of getting to the same place. The infrastructure that kept humanity running is just completely collapsed.

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    1. Yeah, that could be. I know the chances of that 1% of survivors being that well-informed are slim, but duuuuuude, books! Or maybe that’s just my own plague fantasy coming into play… because clearly I’d either lay claim or a bookstore and/or library, or I’d start collecting books randomly until I had something similar set up. And I’d just read and read…

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  2. I finished this one last night and LOVED IT. I’m with you on the electricity thing though. I mean, wind turbines are totally a thing, you’d think someone would have figured them out in 20 years…Maybe it’s like Jenny said and the folks are too scattered to get it all together.

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