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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, September 2014 - Station Eleven may take place during the end of civilization, but don’t make the mistake of discounting it as just another apocalyptic tale. The narrative shifts between past and present and follows five characters, each connected in some fateful way. We begin on a stage, where a world-famous actor suddenly dies while performing King Lear, and jump to Year 20, where a group known as the Traveling Symphony Orchestra travels between settlements, performing Shakespeare to captivated audiences. The result is a fascinating, suspenseful story that, despite its setting, is anything but bleak. I am eagerly awaiting more from Emily St. John Mandel, and I can’t wait to experience the book again with narration from Kirsten Potter ( If I Stay). —Sam, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

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.

©2014 Emily St. John Mandel (P)2014 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A unique departure from which to examine civilization's wreckage.... [a] wild fusion of celebrity gossip and grim future.... Mandel's examination of the connections between individuals with disparate destinies makes a case for the worth of even a single life." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Following three smart, voicey thrillers published with a small press, Mandel makes the leap … to ambitious, fantastical storytelling." (Boris Kachka, New York magazine)
"[An] ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness.... Think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion.... Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet.... Magnetic.... a breakout novel." ( Kirkus)

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  • Stacy
  • INDIANAPOLIS, IN, United States
  • 10-08-14


I was really into this story-beautifully written, interesting characters- then it just ended.

What the beep?

So I'm left to ponder what happened to all these people, and what was the real point of the book. I get it, I guess, but I seriously had no idea that the book was about to end when the "audible hopes you've enjoyed this program" came on. I wanted more! wahh!

70 of 82 people found this review helpful

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Melancholy, Reflection, and Venison

I can't say what kind of apocalyptic society member I would be. A religious, rapture-ish event... I'd have to brush up on my survival skills, but a nuclear event or count down to Armageddon, and I would place my chair at Ground Zero, because I wouldn't want to be without the people I love, nor would I choose to live in a world where there was not some form of beauty, or sense of community. Alone, fighting just to survive, I would wind up as mad as King Lear. Station Eleven opens with a scene from the Shakespeare play and expands on the themes of survival and meaning.

Opening night, the lead actor suffers a heart attack and passes away. The news that night pronounces the actor's passing, and barely mentions a mysterious illness that has people flooding hospital ERs. Within 3 weeks, 99% of the world will die from a flu pandemic. Forward: Twenty years later, a troupe of actors and musicians called The Travelling Symphony moves from one outcropping of survivors to another performing plays and music. Their mission statement sounds enlightened and magnanimous, an ode to the arts... “Because survival is insufficient,” it is a quote one member recalls from a Star Trek episode he watched as a child. The troupe includes a woman that was a young child in the King Lear production the night the actor had his heart attack on stage.

At times, author St. John Mandel is eloquent with understated visions of a broken world. Her museum of artifacts is a centerpiece that connects people and stories, including the actor Leander. His personal life, his celebrity, is captured there in articles from the celebrity magazines left intact. She doesn't go into the breakdown of society or the aftermath of the pandemic, but focuses on the emptiness and melancholy borne of lost loved ones, simple pleasures only remembered, and the connections that remain stretched across a barren world, traversed by The Travelling Symphony. Here, the author is a mighty gentle giant.

Beyond the difficulties of surviving day to day, there is a menacing group of brutal men ruled by The Prophet, but sadly,he makes only a brief appearance and whimpers away. Just when I was hoping for a little trouble-maker to take my mind off the moping and memories, and roasting venison over burning tires, again. Once you get the general premise, you better be ready to dwell on it. Mandel writes beautifully and has created a world that is eerie and surreal, but I started to feel swallowed by the melancholy. For all the hype, all the great reviews, all the promises that I would be haunted by this powerful story, I wasn't feeling it. From my frame of reference, it's been done before. Mandel thinks outside the apocalyptic genre box, but doesn't enlarge the real estate.

The book stays high centered in that world of reflection, the menagerie of meandering melancholics mourning the past, hoping for a better future, chewing deer meat, occasionally appreciating the arts, coming up with some profound thoughts--wallowing in sentimentality. I recommend the book, in spite of my sarcastic, irreverent nature; but not to hard-core apocalyptic/dystopia fans, or anyone that believes the saying "you can't move forward with one foot in the past." (I think Mr.Spock said that in an episode.) It is a lovely novel, written beautifully-- my head tells me so.

69 of 84 people found this review helpful

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An Alternative Dystopian Viewpoint

A masterfully executed dystopian novel from a feminine perspective. Although I am a fan of this genre of literature, I have yet to read (or listen via Audible) to one so rich in the description of human relationships in a post apocalyptic world. Maybe Margaret Atwood comes close. No zombies or AI units wanting to dominate the planet here, just folks trying to figure out what it means to be human in a brand new world. The primary adage of Mandel's work "survival is insufficient" says it all.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Roger
  • Alameda, CA, United States
  • 01-28-15

Airport Paperback

Maybe this is not a completely terrible book. I was really up for something that had both a symphony orchestra and Star Trek references-- and who doesn't like a good post-apocalypse? But my God, what's with the critical raves and nominations for fancy book prizes? Are these people nuts? There is glaring hokiness on every single page: the pedestrian, almost clunky writing; the empty characters; the bad-movie dialogue; the predictable villain; the barrage of cliches. The lameness just washes over you.

The whole thing is not helped much by the reader, whose delivery only amplifies the built-in corniness, and who surely cannot do a British accent. Also, the audio quality doesn't seem great (though maybe I'm just ranting now).

It's possible for a book to have all these flaws, and still be decent entertainment. I finished it, after all. Just manage your expectations. Think of it as a serviceable beach book. If you are looking for something "luminous" or "spellbinding" or whatever hype they are dishing, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

59 of 73 people found this review helpful

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Literary take on EOWAWKI...

I had great hopes as I started to read that this was going to be another well written post apocalyptic novel like "The Postman", "Silo Series, "On The Beach, "The Road", "Swan Song" or "The Stand" and knew not to expect a prepper view like "Jakarta Pandemic." I didn't find a new gem and would read all of the above again before this...

I can see what Emily St. John Mandel was trying to do and it had a lot of potential. Perhaps she tried too hard. I like woven stories with voices and time changing... but this was so tightly woven in places and loosely woven in others that I struggled figuring out who I was with in what time period and why. I might have done better with multiple narrators or reading it in hard print. I also didn't like most of the characters and almost turned it off because I didn't really care. I enjoyed the time spent with the traveling actors... but felt the results of the apocalypse were inaccurately portrayed and just didn't feel real to me.

Unlike other reviewers, I did enjoy the end and felt that as her loose strands were all pulled together and then left open she said something... worth reading... once maybe.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Jack
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 10-14-14


I am really struggling to understand what people like about this book. This book is terrible.

The characters are so poorly drawn. Arthur, a vapid movie star drifts from woman to woman without conscience. His existence as a movie star is dimly imagined as if through the lens of a person who only reads UsWeekly. His craft is only discussed inso far as to ruminate (uninterestingly) on celebrity (actors sacrifice privacy, paparazzi are opportunist scum, the money and glamour are ultimately unfulfilling: nothing illuminating here)
Miranda lives with some dude for a few years, wakes up one day decides to move in with a movie star she bed the night before time passes & with no real understanding of what went wrong between them (or why they even liked each other) she becomes, apropos of no sort of instruction or schooling, based solely on a temp job she took several years earlier, a shipping magnate (but only after discovering the right pair of shoes!) In her spare time she writes and draws a graphic novel she never intends to publish, and most frustratingly, the author and nearly every character & even Miranda herself continually blur the distinction between a comic *book* and comic *strip*. Then there's several members of a post-apocalyptic orchestra who are boilerplate and interchangeable (was there a difference between Deiter & August). Oh! And there's a guy who is a paparazzo but only for a while before becoming an EMT cos THAT happens. This book is so shitty it's actually making me mad.

Then there's the apocalypse. If you are looking for a new or evolved spin on the end of the world plague story look elsewhere, survivors in this book do the same things you've already seen in a bunch of other (better) books: walk a lot, miss electricity and especially mobile devices, learn to hunt and fish and basically do everything you've probably already thought of yourself if you were ever high and wondered what would happen if the world ended in a great big plague. Scratch that, you probably came up with more interesting things when you were high, like, I'd live in the White House or inside the Statue of Liberty.

The book lacks intelligence, none of the characters are especially engaging, the quality of the writing is strong in spots but not sufficient enough to excuse the very flimsy plotting & character work. This is easily one of the most disappointing books I've read in a long time. About halfway through I considered quitting it, after finishing it I wish I had, it never improved. Meaningless characters drift and then it ends.

67 of 90 people found this review helpful

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Don't lose the forest for the trees.

If I nitpick about the few things that I found irritating, I won't do this book justice. It left me with many moments of introspection. It is an overall great read that leaves you wondering what we leave behind and what matters most.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Why do end-of-the-world survivors stay in tents?

There are millions and millions of empty houses, with roofs and walls, perhaps wood-burning fireplaces if you're lucky, beds to sleep in and probably sheets and blankets and towels and, and, and. Just remove all the dead bodies and Bob's your Uncle. But it never fails, books and the movies always show the few survivors squatting in miserable tents or thrown up shelters. Or in this case, gas stations and Walmarts.
And why do they always move about? Why don't they stay in one spot, plant a garden, take over a dairy cow or domesticated chickens whose owner has died? Why the wanderlust?
That's what I'd do. But I guess I would be a poor protagonist so no books would ever be written about me.
This book did keep me listening to the end, but there were a lot of false leads and half-developed characters. I wish there had been fewer foci, and that the characters had more depth. I'm just getting interested in Jeavon when we move on to Kiki, and then Arthur gets a turn, then Miranda. Pick a protagonist and stick to it!

27 of 37 people found this review helpful

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Characters were flat

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Perhaps someone who isn't familiar with good post apocalyptic stories ie, The Road. And interestingly enough, those characters were never even given names. But I cared about them, unlike the characters in Station 11.

What was most disappointing about Emily St. John Mandel’s story?

I did not connect with the characters at all. They simply were not drawn well enough for me to care about whether they lived or died. And the audio format did not lend itself well to me rereading to check on the character's relationships with each other. The author did introduce some intriguing ideas, like the museum, which were not fully developed.

What didn’t you like about Kirsten Potter’s performance?

The narrator's performance was adequate. It was the story that I didn't like.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

I love almost all post apocalyptic stories; I didn't stop listening because I continued to hope the story was going to become more engaging.

19 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Interesting Concept - Enjoyable Book

realize that saying a book is "interesting" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but this book is actually just that - interesting. It has received so much hype this year, and the publisher's blurb piqued my curiosity just enough that I decided I had to read this, even though I don't usually like dystopian books.

I did like this book. Primarily because it kept my interest. There were several threads and several time lines and experiencing the author tie them all together was fascinating. I appreciated the way she made a man who died before the world altering event even occurred a major character in the plot. As if she recognized she was taking the reader off into the unknown, so she used this character, who lived and died in the world we all live in, to keep us grounded in the here and now.

I would assume that if I was one of the lucky survivors of a plague that wiped out 99% of civilization, and I am not sure that would qualify me as "lucky", the last thing I would worry about was keeping orchestral music and Shakespeare alive for the dwindled masses. But maybe that is what survivors of an apocalyptic event should worry about. And a museum dedicated to now useless human accessories like cell phones and credit cards seems almost cruel.

The book was full of unique twists that when thought about seem obvious. Who hasn't been stuck in an airport so long they began to believe they lived there? So why wouldn't survivors see an airport as a natural home. And if you knew the world was about to end wouldn't the perfect fantasy running through your mind be that you had a grocery store all to yourself and you could fill up an unlimited number of carts without worrying to the damage to your credit card.

It would have been easy for the author to fill pages with the expected fighting, blood and gore. But she dealt with the fact that the human race was being wiped out gracefully. And by allowing the reader to contemplate this fact one death at a time, rather than en masse, made it more plausible and easier to accept.

I actually ended up finding the authors view of a post-apocalyptic future rather attractive and not terribly scary. Except for the part about the prophet and his followers. I would hope that if I survived such an event all of the prophets and zealots would not survive with me, nor would the survivors be inclined to create new ones.

If I had one criticism of the book - or maybe I should say one question to ask the author it would be - what happened to all the cows? Animals evidently weren't affected by the virus, because dogs and deer survived. And the survivors are perpetually killing deer and eating venison. None of them would have to have traveled too far to find cows or cattle. Or pigs or chickens for that matter. Those would have been far easier to kill than hunting deer. And fried chicken, country ham or a sirloin steak would have been a familiar tie to the past.

The narration fit the book. The narrator did a very good job. I enjoyed the author's writing style and pace. I highly recommend the book.

15 of 21 people found this review helpful