2014 National Book Award Finalist
A New York Times Bestseller
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.
Jeevan’s understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he’d seen a lot of action movies. He started with water, filled one of the oversized shopping carts with as many cases and bottles as he could fit. There was a moment of doubt on the way to the cash registers, straining against the weight of the cart—was he overreacting?—but there was a certain momentum now, too late to turn back. The clerk raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“I’m parked just outside,” he said. “I’ll bring the cart back.” The clerk nodded, tired. She was young, early twenties probably, with dark bangs that she kept pushing out of her eyes. He forced the impossibly heavy cart outside and half-pushed, half-skidded through the snow at the exit. There was a long ramp down into a small park-like arrangement of benches and planters. The cart gained speed on the incline, bogged down in deep snow at the bottom of the ramp and slid sideways into a planter.
It was eleven twenty. The supermarket closed in forty minutes. He was imagining how long it would take to bring the cart up to Frank’s apartment, to unload it, the time required for tedious explanations and reassurances of sanity before he could return to the grocery store for more supplies. Could there be any harm in leaving the cart here for the moment? There was no one on the street. He called Hua on his way back into the store.
“What’s happening now?” He moved quickly through the store while Hua spoke. Another case of water—Jeevan was under the impression that one can never have too much—and then cans and cans of food, all the tuna and beans and soup on the shelf, pasta, anything that looked like it might last a while. The hospital was full of flu patients and the situation was identical at the other hospitals in the city. The ambulance service was overwhelmed. Thirty-seven patients had died now, including every patient who’d been on the Moscow flight and two E.R. nurses who’d been on duty when the first patients came in. The shopping cart was almost unmanageably heavy. Hua said he’d called his wife and told her to take the kids and leave the city tonight, but not by airplane. Jeevan was standing by the cash register again, the clerk scanning his cans and packages. The part of the evening that had transpired in the Elgin Theatre seemed like possibly a different lifetime. The clerk was moving very slowly. Jeevan passed her a credit card and she scrutinized it as though she hadn’t just seen it five or ten minutes ago.
“Take Laura and your brother,” Hua said, “and leave the city tonight.”
“I can’t leave the city tonight, not with my brother. I can’t rent a wheelchair van at this hour.”
In response there was only a muffled sound. Hua was coughing.
“Are you sick?” Jeevan was pushing the cart toward the door.
“Goodnight, Jeevan.” Hua disconnected and Jeevan was alone in the snow. He felt possessed. The next cart was all toilet paper. The cart after that was more canned goods, also frozen meat and aspirin, garbage bags, bleach, duct tape.
“I work for a charity,” he said to the girl behind the cash register, his third or fourth time through, but she wasn’t paying much attention to him. She kept glancing up at the small television above the film development counter, ringing his items through on autopilot. Jeevan called Laura on his sixth trip through the store, but his call went to voicemail.
“Laura,” he began. “Laura.” He thought it better to speak to her directly and it was already almost eleven fifty, there wasn’t time for this. Filling the cart with more food, moving quickly through this bread-and-flower-scented world, this almost-gone place, thinking of Frank in his 22nd floor apartment, high up in the snowstorm with his insomnia and his book project, his day-old New York Times
and his Beethoven. Jeevan wanted desperately to reach him. He decided to call Laura later, changed his mind and called the home line while he was standing by the checkout counter, mostly because he didn’t want to make eye contact with the clerk.
“Jeevan, where are you?” She sounded slightly accusatory. He handed over his credit card.
“Are you watching the news?”
“Should I be?”
“There’s a flu epidemic, Laura. It’s serious.”
“That thing in Russia or wherever? I knew about that.”
“It’s here now. It’s worse than we’d thought. I’ve just been talking to Hua. You have to leave the city.” He glanced up in time to see the look the checkout girl gave him.
to? What? Where are you, Jeevan?” He was signing his name on the slip, struggling with the cart toward the exit, where the order of the store ended and the frenzy of the storm began. It was difficult to steer the cart with one hand. There were already five carts parked haphazardly between benches and planters, dusted now with snow.
“Just turn on the news, Laura.”
“You know I don’t like to watch the news before bed. Are you having an anxiety attack?”
“What? No. I’m going to my brother’s place to make sure he’s okay.”
“Why wouldn’t he be?”
“You’re not even listening. You never listen to me.” Jeevan knew this was probably a petty thing to say in the face of a probable flu pandemic, but couldn’t resist. He plowed the cart into the others and dashed back into the store. “I can’t believe you left me at the theatre,” he said. “You just left me at the theatre performing CPR on a dead actor.”
“Jeevan, tell me where you are.”
“I’m in a grocery store.” It was eleven fifty-five. This last cart was all grace items: vegetables, fruit, bags of oranges and lemons, tea, coffee, crackers, salt, preserved cakes. “Look, Laura, I don’t want to argue. This flu’s serious, and it’s fast.”
“This flu, Laura. It’s really fast. Hua told me. It’s spreading so quickly. I think you should get out of the city.” At the last moment, he added a bouquet of daffodils.
Excerpted from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Copyright © 2014 by Emily St. John Mandel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
2014 National Book Award Finalist
Praise for Station Eleven:
“Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.”
— Ann Patchett
“Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel, Station Eleven, begins with a spectacular end. One night in a Toronto theater, onstage performing the role of King Lear, 51-year-old Arthur Leander has a fatal heart attack. There is barely time for people to absorb this shock when tragedy on a considerably vaster scale arrives in the form of a flu pandemic so lethal that, within weeks, most of the world’s population has been killed . . . Mandel is an exuberant storyteller . . . Readers will be won over by her nimble interweaving of her characters’ lives and fates . . . Station Eleven is as much a mystery as it is a post-apocalyptic tale . . . Mandel is especially good at planting clues and raising the kind of plot-thickening questions that keep the reader turning pages . . . Station Eleven offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.”
— Sigrid Nunez, New York Times Book Review
“Last month, when the fiction finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, one stood out from the rest: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel . . . Station Eleven is set in a familiar genre universe, in which a pandemic has destroyed civilization. The twist—the thing that makes Station Eleven National Book Award material—is that the survivors are artists . . . It’s hard to imagine a novel more perfectly suited, in both form and content, to this literary moment . . . Station Eleven, if we were to talk about it in our usual way, would seem like a book that combines high culture and low culture—“literary fiction” and “genre fiction.” But those categories aren’t really adequate to describe the book . . . It brings together these different fictional genres and the values—observation, feeling, erudition—to which they’re linked. . . Instead of being compressed, it blossoms.”
— Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker
“Emily St. John Mandel’s tender and lovely new novel, Station Eleven . . . miraculously reads like equal parts page-turner and poem . . . One of her great feats is that the story feels spun rather than plotted, with seamless shifts in time and characters. . . “Because survival is insufficient,” reads a line taken from Star Trek spray painted on the Traveling Symphony’s lead wagon. The genius of Mandel’s fourth novel . . . is that she lives up to those words. This is not a story of crisis and survival. It’s one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes.”
— Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly
“Spine-tingling . . . Ingenious . . . Ms. Mandel gives the book some extra drama by positioning some of her characters near the brink of self-discovery as disaster approaches. The plague hits so fast that it takes them all by surprise . . . Ms. Mandel is able to tap into the poignancy of lives cut short at a terrible time — or, in one case, of a life that goes on long after wrongs could be righted."
— Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“In Station Eleven , by Emily St. John Mandel, the Georgia Flu becomes airborne the night Arthur Leander dies during his performance as King Lear. Within months, all airplanes are grounded, cars run out of gas and electricity flickers out as most of the world’s population dies. The details of Arthur’s life before the flu and what happens afterward to his friends, wives and lovers create a surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid such devastation. Among the survivors are Kirsten, a child actor at the time of Arthur’s death who lives with no memory of what happened to her the first year after the flu . . . A gorgeous retelling of Lear unfolds through Arthur’s flashbacks and Kirsten’s attempt to stay alive.”
— Nancy Hightower, The Washington Post
“My book of the year is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I chose this book, because it surprised me. I’ve read a number of post-apocalyptic novels over the years and most of them are decidedly ungenerous toward humans and their brutishness. Station Eleven has their same sense of danger and difficulty, but still reads as more of a love letter — acknowledging all those things we would most miss and all those things we would still have.”
— Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
“Even if you think dystopian fiction is not your thing, I urge you to give this marvelous novel a try. The plot revolves around a pandemic that shatters the world as we know it into isolated settlements and the Traveling Symphony, a roving band of actors and musicians who remind those who survived the catastrophe about hope and humanity. The questions raised by this emotional and thoughtful story—why does my life matter? what distinguishes living from surviving?—will stay with you long after the satisfying conclusion.”
— Doborah Harkness, author of The Book of Life
“Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven sensitively explores the dynamics of . . . a theater troupe called the Traveling Symphony whose musicians and actors perform Shakespeare for small communities around the Great Lakes. Ms. Mandel . . . writ[es] with cool intelligence and poised understatement. Her real interest is in examining friendships and love affairs and the durable consolations of art.”
— Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“[A] complete post-apocalyptic world is rendered in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, in which a hyper-virulent flu wipes out the majority of the earth’s population and the surviving one percent band into self-governing pods. Think of a more hopeful and female-informed rendering of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road . . . Mandel’s novel feels taut and assured... By having a pre- and post-pandemic split screen, she is able to ask questions about artistic creation, fame, and faith against the backgrounds of plenty and scarcity. There is the page-turning plot and compelling characters, but more importantly in a novel that engages with social issues are the questions—not answered but asked.”
— Rob Spillman, Guernica
“So impressive . . . Station Eleven is terrifying, reminding us of how paper-thin the achievements of civilization are. But it’s also surprisingly — and quietly — beautiful . . . As Emily Dickinson knew and as Mandel reminds us, there’s a sumptuousness in destitution, a painful beauty in loss . . . A superb novel. Unlike most postapocalyptic works, it leaves us not fearful for the end of the world but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.”
— Anthony Domestic, San Francisco Chronicle
"Darkly lyrical . . . An appreciation of art, love and the triumph of the human spirit . . . Mandel effortlessly moves between time periods . . . The book is full of beautiful set pieces and landscapes; big, bustling cities before and during the outbreak, an eerily peaceful Malaysian seashore, and an all-but-abandoned Midwest airport-turned museum that becomes an all important setting for the last third of the book . . . Mandel ties up all the loose ends in a smooth and moving way, giving humanity to all her characters — both in a world that you might recognize as the one we all live in today (and perhaps take for granted) and a post-apocalyptic world without electricity, smartphones and the Internet. Station Eleven is a truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down and a pleasure to read."
— Doug Knoop, The Seattle Times
"Mandel’s spectacular, unmissable new novel is set in a near-future dystopia, after most — seriously, 99.99 percent — of the world’s population is killed suddenly and swiftly by a flu pandemic. (Have fun riding the subway after this one!) The perspective shifts between a handful of survivors, all connected to a famous actor who died onstage just before the collapse. A literary page-turner, impeccably paced, which celebrates the world lost while posing questions about art, fame, and what endures after everything, and everyone, is gone."
— Amanda Bullock, Vulture
"Haunting and riveting . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted — from the Internet to eating an orange . . . It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all."
— Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel is, flat-out, one of the best things I’ve read on the ability of art to endure in a good long while. It’s about the ways that civilization is kept alive in a world devastated by a plague, sure, but it’s also about the way artists live, about the way people live, about flawed relationships and creative pursuits and how the unlikeliest of connections can bring transcendence."
— Tobias Carroll, Electric Literature
“Though it centers on civilization’s collapse in the aftermath of a devastating flu, this mesmerizing novel isn’t just apocalyptic fantasy—it’s also an intricately layered character study of human life itself. Jumping back and forth between the decades before and after the pandemic, the narrative interlaces several individuals’ stories, encompassing a universe of emotions and ultimately delivering a view of life that’s both chilling and jubilant.”
— People Magazine
“If you’re planning to write a post-apocalyptic novel, you’re going to have to breathe some new life into it. Emily St. John Mandel does that with her new book, Station Eleven . . . The story is told through several characters, including an A-list actor, his ex-wives, a religious prophet and the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of Shakespearean actors and musicians who travel to settlements performing for the survivors. Each bring a unique perspective to life, relationships and what it means to live in a world returned to the dark ages . . . Mandel doesn’t put the emphasis on the apocalypse itself (the chaos, the scavenging, the scientists trying to find a cure), but instead shows the effects it has on humanity. Despite the state of the world, people find reasons to continue . . . Station Eleven will change the post-apocalyptic genre. While most writers tend to be bleak and clichéd, Mandel chooses to be optimistic and imaginative. This isn’t a story about survival, it’s a story about living.”
— Andrew Blom, The Boston Herald
“A novel that carries a magnificent depth . . . We get to see something that is so difficult to show or feel – how small moments in time link together. And how these moments add up to a life . . . Her best yet. It feels as though she took the experience earned from her previous writing and braided it together to make one gleaming strand . . . An epic book.”
— Claire Cameron, The Globe and Mail
“I’ve been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel ever since her first novel . . . she’s a stunningly beautiful writer whose complex, flawed, and well-drawn characters linger with you long after you set her books down . . . With the release of Station Eleven—a big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel that follows a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors roaming a postapocalyptic world—she’s poised for blockbuster success. Effortlessly combining her flawless craftsmanship, rich insights, and compelling characters with big-budget visions of the end of the world, Station Eleven is hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.”
— Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
“Station Eleven is a complex, eerie novel about the years before and after a pandemic that eliminates most of humanity, save for a troupe of actors and a few traumatized witnesses. Mandel’s novel weaves together a post-apocalyptic reckoning, the life of an actor, and the thoughts of the man who tries to save him. It’s an ambitious premise, but what glues the parts together is Mandel’s vivid, addictive language. It’s easy to see why she’d claim this novel as her most prized: Station Eleven is a triumph of narrative and prose, a beautifully arranged work about art, society, and what’s great about the world we live in now.”
— Claire Luchette, Bustle
“An ambitious and addictive novel.”
— Sarah Hughes, Guardian
“Mandel deviates from the usual and creates what is possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read . . . Beautiful writing . . . An assured handle on human emotions and relationships . . . Though not without tension and a sense of horror, Station Eleven rises above the bleakness of the usual post-apocalyptic novels because its central concept is one so rarely offered in the genre – hope.”
— The Independent (UK)
“A beautiful and unsettling book, the action moves between the old and new world, drawing connections between the characters and their pasts and showing the sweetness of life as we know it now and the value of friendship, love and art over all the vehicles, screens and remote controls that have been rendered obsolete. Mandel's skill in portraying her post-apocalyptic world makes her fictional creation seem a terrifyingly real possibility. Apocalyptic stories once offered the reader a scary view of an alternative reality and the opportunity, on putting the book down, to look around gratefully at the real world. This is a book to make its reader mourn the life we still lead and the privileges we still enjoy.”
— Sunday Express
“A haunting tale of art and the apocalypse. Station Eleven is an unmissable experience.”
— Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season
“There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic thrillers on the shelves these days, but Station Eleven is unusually haunting . . . There is an understated, piercing nostalgia . . . there is humour, amid the collapse . . . and there is Mandel's marvellous creation, the Travelling Symphony, travelling from one scattered gathering of humanity to another . . . There is also a satisfyingly circular mystery, as Mandel unveils neatly, satisfyingly, the links between her disparate characters . . . This book will stay with its readers much longer than more run-of-the-mill thrillers.”
— Alison Flood, Thriller of the Month Observer
“Haunting and riveting . . . Mandel will repeatedly remind us in this book, it's people rather than machines that make the world spin . . . In several moving passages, Mandel's characters look back with similar longing toward the receding pre-plague world, remembering all the things they'd once taken for granted . . . In a move that's sure to draw comparisons with Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, Mandel periodically travels backward in time, allowing us to see how blind and selfish such characters were, back in the day when they had so much and lived so small . . . As a result, Station Eleven comes to seem less like a spaceship reflecting how we'll live our dystopian future than a way of thinking about how and where we're traveling here and now. It's not just the residents of Mandel's post-collapse world who need to forge stronger connections and live for more than mere survival. So do we all.”
— Mike Fischer, Knoxville News-Sentinel
“Post-apocalyptic scenarios are rarely positive . . . but Mandel’s book embraces a different view while still depicting how difficult living would be in a desolate world.”
— Molly Driscoll, Christian Science Monitor Editors’ Pick
"Enormous scope and an ambitious time-jumping structure, Station Eleven paints its post-apocalyptic world in both bold brushstrokes and tiny points of background detail. As the conflicts of one era illuminate another, a small group of interrelated characters witnesses the collapse of the current historical age and staggers through the first faltering steps of the next . . . [A] powerfully absorbing tale of survival in a quarantined airport and on the dangerous roads between improvised settlements, protected by actors and musicians trained for gunfights. Mandel has imagined this world in full, and her ambition and imagination on display here are admirable."
— Emily Choate, Chapter 16
"Audacious . . . A group of actors and musicians stumble upon each other and now roam the region between Toronto and Chicago as the Traveling Symphony, performing Shakespeare — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet” — for small settlements they find in the wilderness. Their existence alone provides the novel with a strange beauty, even hope, as one actress notes how these plays survived a bubonic plague centuries ago . . . Station Eleven is blessedly free of moralizing, or even much violence. If anything, it’s a book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it."
— Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Station Eleven . . . I couldn't resist . . . You should read it, too . . . It'll make you marvel at the world as we know it . . . [and] remind you the people who drive you the most crazy are perhaps also the ones you don't want to live without."
— Mary Pauline Lowry, Huffington Post Books Blog
“Never has a book convinced me more of society’s looming demise than Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, an apocalyptic novel about a world just like our own that, much as our own might, dissolves after a new strain of influenza eradicates 99 percent of the human population. A soul-quaking premise, and a story that, I must warn, should not be read in a grubby airport surrounded by potential carriers of … whatever disease, take your pick . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy . . . She has exuded talent for years . . . There is such glory in humanity, in what we, through every plague and every age, continue to create — like this book — and in what we are capable of sustaining.”
— Tiffany Gibert, LA Review of Books
"Mandel comes by a now-common genre mash-up, highbrow dystopia, honestly, following three small-press literary thrillers. By focusing on a Shakespeare troupe roving a post-pandemic world of sparse communities, she brings a hard-focus humanity to the form. Repeated flashbacks to the life of an early flu victim, a Hollywood actor who dies onstage in the character of Lear, provide both comic relief and the pathos of a beautifully frivolous world gone by."
— Boris Kachka's 8 Books You Need To Read This September, Vulture
“Disappear inside the exquisite post-apocalyptic world of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and you’ll resurface with a greater appreciation for the art and culture we daily take for granted. With fearless imagination, Mandel recounts the peripatetic adventures of an eccentric band of artists, musicians, playwrights, and actors as they traverse the world’s dreary landscape attempting to keep culture and art alive in the aftermath of a devastating disease that has wiped out much of civilization . . . Strange, poetic, thrilling, and grim all at once, Station Eleven is a prismatic tale about survival, unexpected coincidences, and the significance of art and its oft under-appreciated beauty. ”
— September 2014’s Best Books, Bustle
“The most buzzed-about novel of the season.”
— Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"In this unforgettable, haunting, and almost hallucinatory portrait of life at the edge, those who remain struggle to retain their basic humanity and make connections with the vanished world through art, memory, and remnants of popular culture . . . a brilliantly constructed, highly literary, postapocalyptic page-turner."
— Lauren Gilbert, Library Journal (starred)
"This fast-paced novel details life before and after a flu wipes out 99 percent of the earth's population . . . As the characters reflect on what gives life meaning in a desolate, postapocalyptic world, readers will be inspired to do the same."
— Real Simple
“Once in a very long while a book becomes a brand new old friend, a story you never knew you always wanted. Station Eleven is that rare find that feels familiar and extraordinary at the same time, expertly weaving together future and present and past, death and life and Shakespeare. This is truly something special.”
— Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
"Station Eleven is a magnificent, compulsive novel that cleverly turns the notion of a “kinder, gentler time” on its head. And, oh, the pleasure of falling down the rabbit hole of Mandel’s imagination -- a dark, shimmering place rich in alarmingly real detail and peopled with such human, such very appealing characters."
— Liza Klaussmann, author of Tigers in Red Weather
"Her best, most ambitious work yet. Post-apocalyptic tales are all the rage this season, but Mandel’s intricate plotting and deftness with drawing character makes this novel of interlinked tales stand out as a beguiling read. Beginning with the onslaught of the deadly Georgian flu and the death of a famous actor onstage, and advancing twenty years into the future to a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors who perform for the few remaining survivors, the novel sits with darkness while searching for the beauty in art and human connection."
— Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2014 Book Preview, The Millions
“Ambitious, magnificent . . . Mandel’s vision is not only achingly beautiful but startlingly plausible, exposing the fragile beauty of the world we inhabit. In the burgeoning postapocalyptic literary genre, Mandel’s transcendent, haunting novel deserves a place alongside The Road, The Passage, and The Dog Stars.”
— Kristine Huntley, Booklist (starred)
“[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 (starred)
“Station Eleven is the kind of book that speaks to dozens of the readers in me---the Hollywood devotee, the comic book fan, the cult junkie, the love lover, the disaster tourist. It is a brilliant novel, and Emily St. John Mandel is astonishing.”
— Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers
“Station Eleven is a firework of a novel. Elegantly constructed and packed with explosive beauty, it's full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.”
— Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
“Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.”
— Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist
"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
FINALIST 2014 National Book Award
About the Book
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Station Eleven, the dazzling new novel by acclaimed author Emily St. John Mandel.
About the Guide
“[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
An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, from the author of three highly acclaimed previous novels.
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.
About the Author
Emily St. John Mandel was born in British Columbia, Canada. She is the author of three previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—all of which were Indie Next picks. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 and Venice Noir. She lives in New York City with her husband.
1. Now that you’ve read the entire novel, go back and reread the passage by Czeslaw Milosz that serves as an epigraph. What does it mean? Why did Mandel choose it to introduce Station Eleven?
2. Does the novel have a main character? Who would you consider it to be?
3. Arthur Leander dies while performing King Lear, and the Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare’s works. On page 57, Mandel writes, “Shakespeare was the third born to his parents, but the first to survive infancy. Four of his siblings died young. His son, Hamnet, died at eleven and left behind a twin. Plague closed the theaters again and again, death flickering over the landscape.” How do Shakespearean motifs coincide with those of Station Eleven, both the novel and the comic?
4. Arthur’s death happens to coincide with the arrival of the Georgia Flu. If Jeevan had been able to save him, it wouldn’t have prevented the apocalypse. But how might the trajectory of the novel been different?
5. What is the metaphor of the Station Eleven comic books? How does the Undersea connect to the events of the novel?
6. “Survival is insufficient,” a line from Star Trek: Voyager, is the Traveling Symphony’s motto. What does it mean to them?
7. On page 62, the prophet discusses death: “I’m not speaking of the tedious variations on physical death. There’s the death of the body, and there’s the death of the soul. I saw my mother die twice.” Knowing who his mother was, what do you think he meant by that?
8. Certain items turn up again and again, for instance the comic books and the paperweight—things Arthur gave away before he died, because he didn’t want any more possessions. And Clark’s Museum of Civilization turns what we think of as mundane belongings into totems worthy of study. What point is Mandel making?
9. On a related note, some characters—like Clark—believe in preserving and teaching about the time before the flu. But in Kirsten’s interview with François Diallo, we learn that there are entire towns that prefer not to: “We went to a place once where the children didn’t know the world had ever been different . . . ” (page 115). What are the benefits of remembering, and of not remembering?
10. What do you think happened during the year Kirsten can’t remember?
11. In a letter to his childhood friend, Arthur writes that he’s been thinking about a quote from Yeats, “Love is like the lion’s tooth.” (page 158). What does this mean, and why is he thinking about it?
12. How does the impending publication of those letters affect Arthur?
13. On page 206, Arthur remembers Miranda saying “I regret nothing,” and uses that to deepen his understanding of Lear, “a man who regrets everything,” as well as his own life. How do his regrets fit into the larger scope of the novel? Other than Miranda, are there other characters that refuse to regret?
14. Throughout the novel, those who were alive during the time before the flu remember specific things about those days: the ease of electricity, the taste of an orange. In their place, what do you think you’d remember most?
15. What do you imagine the Traveling Symphony will find when they reach the brightly lit town to the south?
16. The novel ends with Clark, remembering the dinner party and imagining that somewhere in the world, ships are sailing. Why did Mandel choose to end the novel with him?
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