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PJV Quickie: Station Eleven was recommended to me by a few friends and my local librarian and I have seen nothing but fabulous reviews.  Unfortunately, while the premise was good and the writing was exceptional, the story still managed to fall flat for me. 

A super-flu wipes out 99% of the worlds’ population in a matter of weeks.  Years later, pockets of humans live without electricity, antibiotics, or any ‘modern’ conveniences.  “Before”, Arthur Leander is an actor who dies in the middle of a performance of King Lear.  “After”, Kirsten Raymonde is part of a troupe of actors and musicians that travel between towns, playing music and performing Shakespeare’s plays. C
omprised of alternating scenes from “before” and “after”, Station Eleven is both mundane and tragic, straddling the line between ordinary and otherworldly.


I really hate to say it, but even though Station Eleven was beautifully written, it just didn’t work for me. I haven’t read a “non-romance” book in several years, but coming off Andy Weir’s The Martian, I figured I’d try another one and give Station Eleven a go.  I think I need to dip back into the Romance pool, because apparently I need a Happily Ever After, or at least the promise of one, to really enjoy a story.  

The writing in Station Eleven was wonderful, but I just didn’t like the main character, Arthur Leander. So much of the story involves him and his life, and I just didn’t find him to be a sympathetic character. At all.  Honestly, he was kind of a self-centered jerk and that feeling of distaste stuck with me throughout most of the book.

I also had some difficulty keeping track of all the characters from both before and after.  And while I found life “after” to be kind of interesting as a dystopian-type society, I really struggled with boredom in the “before” parts of the story -I can’t disclose why without giving away spoilers, but let’s just say that’s not a good thing. 

I will say that Ms. St. John Mandel paints a beautiful portrait with her words; I could absolutely envision the world “after”, as well as certain elements that thread through both parts of the story.  Her descriptions make me wish there was a companion graphic novel, because I think it would be spectacular.

I think fans of Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus will enjoy Station Eleven, although there are no magical or paranormal elements. I might also recommend Station Eleven to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale or other Margaret Atwood books.

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About the Book

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel #Review

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Published by Alfred A. Knopf on September 9, 2014
Genres: Adult, Apocalypse, Dystopian
Source: Library
3 Stars

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.