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Station Eleven

A Novel
Narrated by: Kirsten Potter
Length: 10 hrs and 40 mins
4 out of 5 stars (7,570 ratings)

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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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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • k teed
  • ibillinsly@gmail
  • 03-21-18

Symphonies, Caravans, Comics, and a Plague

Station Eleven is not the typical post-apocalyptic tale. Based on the quality of writing , it is considered "literary." While I didn't find the narrative overly compelling, Emily St. John Mandel does have a knack for descriptive scenes and character development. The author's tale of post-apocalyptic society revolves around a traveling symphony, a migratory convoy performing Shakespeare plays in the remaining small villages of America. The narrator of this audiobook, Kirsten Potter, does a excellent job and keeps the reader/listener engaged through what I consider to be a slow-moving first couple of hours. While most novels of the post-apocalyptic genre focus on the evils the deterioration of modern society must surely bring, Station Eleven focuses more on the hope that not all is lost. While the horrors of civilization's demise certainly occur within in the novel, these horrors are more of a backdrop rather than the focal point of the narrative. Station Eleven is an artistic version of an apocalyptic setting, an above average read for those looking for a change of pace. Overall rating: 4.11 stars

38 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Stacy
  • INDIANAPOLIS, IN, United States
  • 10-08-14

gah!

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!

105 of 122 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

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.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

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.

81 of 97 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

80 of 99 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

18 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

a solid weekend read

This is another entry into one of my pet genres, which I affectionately call "books about books." This one is nominally sci-fi as it is set in a post-apocalyptic world where high-tech civilization has collapsed and in the ensuing, increasingly wild mid-west, a troupe of actors and musicians travel from town to town, performing Shakespeare and symphonies. King Lear figures prominently in the story. A child actor from the opening King Lear performance serves as the main protagonist; the child from the actor playing King Lear in the opening performance serves as the main antagonist. There are several interesting connections between the pre- and post-apocalyptic worlds that serve to entertain. This won an award when it was published and was very well-received. I found it on the light side, though fairly well-written. It is not terribly challenging in style, vocabulary or plot but does gently pull you into the story arc in a surprisingly effective way. Shakespeare resonates through this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Ruth
  • Newton, MA
  • 12-19-16

No ending

I don't understand...I was enjoying this book, and just starting to care for the characters enough to wonder how it would all come together or why we had been following these particular people when the book suddenly ended!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

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!

37 of 49 people found this review helpful