{Review} STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

B O O K   T R A I L E R:

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

    {1. THE THEATER}

    THE KING STOOD in a pool of blue light, unmoored. This was act 4 of King Lear, a winter night at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. Earlier in the evening, three little girls had played a clapping game onstage as the audience entered, childhood versions of Lear's daughters, and now they'd returned as hallucinations in the mad scene. The king stumbled and reached for them as they flitted here and there in the shadows. His name was Arthur Leander. He was fifty-one years old and there were flowers in his hair.

(pg. 1, US hardcover edition)

There is so much to say about STATION ELEVEN, and so little that can be shared without revealing spoilers. STATION ELEVEN is a book that unfurls slowly, one that introduces you to a multitude of characters and slips all of the puzzle pieces together later. It's interesting that Erin Morgenstern blurbed the novel because in her own debut, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, she also has a way of unfurling the story to move it along. Slowly, softly, but with great impact.

As the novel opens, we are introduced to an actor named Arthur Leander. Within a couple of pages, Arthur will die onstage from a heart attack at the end of King Lear. The little girl watching him from the wings, Kirsten Raymonde, will survive the oncoming plague and grow up working with a traveling theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony. A man in the audience, Jeevan Chaudhary, will attempt to resuscitate the fallen actor, and readers will later learn of his connections to Arthur. Arthur's best friend, Clark Thompson, is asked to inform Arthur's ex-wives and his small son of his passing because he has no one close in his life. All of these people are introduced briefly; their lives will become more important later as the novel progresses and we see some of their POVs. Through many of these various characters, we see the world fall, people succumb to illness and die, people carving out a new existence. Despite his brief introduction, Arthur Leander connects so much of this novel in ways that most characters will never know or understanding. Reading the individual fragments as the author weaves the past and present together make the reader privy to all this knowledge and more.

Right after Arthur Leander dies, 99% of the world dies. The Georgia Flu is brought to the US from a Russian flight of passengers. Within 48 hours of being exposed to the Flu, the exposed will contract it and die. Only a lucky 1% of the population will survive this international disaster. The majority of STATION ELEVEN either takes place twenty years after the collapse of civilization, or in the period leading up to the collapse. The focus isn't on anarchy and survival, as in novels such as THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. It is about surviving and building a new world, of living and recovering. A quote from Star Trek is emblazoned on the Traveling Symphony's caravan: "Survival is insufficient." This quote encompasses so much of the way humanity is now.

STATION ELEVEN could be called speculative fiction, or post-apocalyptic fiction. It details the end of civilization in a straight-forward, unflinching manner. The novel can, at time, weigh readers down. The end is depressing, and when characters don't make it, or their loved ones don't, it's tragic. Mandel also has a fantastic way of ending chapters that leave readers with a delicious sense of foreboding. After finishing STATION ELEVEN, I wanted to immediately read something light and happy because I couldn't handle anymore darkness. At the same time, STATION ELEVEN is also built on hope. Humanity will survive. It will be altered, but the goodness in people will allow for us to recover and come together in new ways. This sense of hope gets readers to the end. All is not forsaken.

I loved the language and prose of STATION ELEVEN, and want to read more novels from Mandel moving forward. The way she thought about things that would no longer function, or the way small moments can have rippling repercussions far down the road are exemplary. At the same time, this might not have been the best time of year to read it. With all the media coverage of the upcoming flu season, which is supposed to be "especially bad," and with people freaking out about ebola, it's easy to become very paranoid. I'm still half in the world of STATION ELEVEN, which I only finished reading this past weekend. While, on the surface, I know that none of this equates to the Georgia Flu, the possibilities are in the air. Part of the horror in STATION ELEVEN is the truth that something like this could one day happen. I like to think that if it does, humanity will bounce back and come together over time. STATION ELEVEN gives me that hope for the potential future.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: -- ( There is the memory of romance, but there is no romance )
Language: --
Violence: PG15 ( there are a few deaths throughout the novel, but they aren't graphically detailed )
Other:  ( rape mentioned in passing; sex mentioned in passing; end of the world scenarios )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

The cover was the first thing to catch my attention about STATION ELEVEN. 

It had a blurb from Erin Morgenstern, author of THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

Looking at the image... Were those circus tents?? (No. But the tents belonged to a traveling Shakespeare troupe and, oh, that sounds pretty neat!) 
 This cover did exactly what it needed to. I had never heard of it before. But I picked it up to learn more based on the blurb and the tents. It was only in the following weeks that I started hearing the buzz about it, as though the world was discovering the book alongside me (Though I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case and I was actually the last to know!)
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2014
Publisher: Knopf // Random House
Received: Borrowed

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 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.