Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Published: September 9, 2014 by Knopf

Kindle Edition, 354 pages

Setting: Toronto, Ontario and Michigan

Literary Awards: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (2015), PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Nominee (2015), John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Novel (2015), British Fantasy Award Nominee for August Derleth Award (best horror novel) (2015), The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2015), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015), National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2014)

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Like Stephen King’s The Stand and In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke — two other books I love — Station Eleven explores the aftermath of a global pandemic. This cataclysmic illness, dubbed the Georgia Flu, has decimated the human population. We see the myriad ways people survive and make meaning of the remnants of the world they once knew.

Various threads comprise this apocalyptic tale, which moves among three points in time, and it’s all connected seamlessly. One thread of the story starts at the beginning of the pandemic that decimates the population. During a production of King Lear in Toronto. Arthur Leander, an aging Hollywood star, suffers a heart attack onstage. His young friend Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress, watches from the stage. Jeevan, a former entertainment journalist and paramedic-in-training, steps up to help him. Later Jeevan and his brother hide in an apartment, surrounded by chaos, as society dissolves around them.

Twenty years later, as the post-collapse violence is ebbing, Kirsten travels with a troupe of actors and musicians. They go from one post-apocalyptic settlement to the next performing because, to quote Star Trek, “survival is insufficient.”

They encounter various refugees from the old world, including a self-professed prophet who dominates his community “with a combination of charisma, violence, and cherry-picked verses from the Book of Revelation.” The story also delves into “the shadow world, the time before the Georgia Flu,” exploring the lives of Arthur, his first wife, and his best friend.

Station Eleven stands out for its beautiful use of language, depth of character development, and vibrant world building. The complex plot is brilliantly constructed with a balance of action, contemplative scenes, and lovely moments of stillness.

It also manages to be both dark and hopeful. It is honest about the brutality that would follow the collapse of society, yet it offers a somewhat gentler, more balanced view of humanity than you might expect. It is such a gorgeous novel, it actually has a luminous quality. And it is likely to make you think more deeply about our world, the people in it, and the present moment.

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