In our present day, an actor playing King Lear has a heart attack and dies. Fifteen years later, a caravan of actors and musicians travels the ruins of the United States, performing Shakespeare and fighting for survival. Discovering what happens between those two points in time, like slowly unwrapping a present, is the exquisite joy of this novel. Emily St. John Mandel is able to take a disaster of enormous scope—the fall and rise of humanity—and show it to us through the eyes of five seemingly small figures. And when you fit those five puzzle pieces together at the book's heartbreaking climax, you will be both terrified of the future and overjoyed to be human and alive.
What do a dead Shakespearean actor, a paramedic, a prophet, and the keeper of the last graphic novel on Earth have in common? There's a deadly superflu, but also dozens of coincidences that connect these narrators in this profound and beautiful tale about what we hold onto at the end of the world. My favorite book of 2014, and definitely in my Top 10 of all time ever.
The plot sounds grim: decades after a population-decimating flu outbreak, a band of Shakespearean actors roams the desolate Midwest, performing for the makeshift communities of survivors who live in former gas stations, Wal-Marts. Yet Station Eleven is a tender and contemplative look at the power of love, memory, and imagination. St. John Mandel’s beautiful narration and intricate plot construction is as all-consuming as the disease that wipes out humanity’s heft. Chronological shifts reveal the world’s demiselectricity fails, gasoline runs out—and remember characters’ lives before Year 0—their failing marriages, their golden dreams.
This post-apocalyptic endeavor is a beautifully written, terrifying journey into a future that feels real. We follow a caravan of musicians and actors who call themselves the Traveling Symphony, performing for forlorn survivors as they traverse the desolate landscape of what was once the Great Lakes. A fantastic look into human nature and the will to survive.
September 2014 Indie Next List
“This is a harrowing and wonderful book -- blunt and elegant, wise and frightening, and utterly plausible at every turn. The characters are complicated, but their stories, short or long, are always deeply engaging. We -- our species -- always find ways, little by little, not just to survive but also to reestablish a sense of place, of community, and of compassion. Unsentimental yet deeply moving, Station Eleven is a terrific achievement.”
— John Christensen, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI
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.
A National Book Award Finalist A PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
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.
One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Buzzfeed, and Entertainment Weekly, Time, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Minnesota Public Radio, The Huffington Post, BookPage, Time Out,BookRiot
“Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.” — Ann Patchett
“A superb novel . . . [that] leaves us not fearful for the end of the word but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Deeply melancholy, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac . . . A book that I will long remember, and return to.” — George R. R. Martin
“Absolutely extraordinary.” —Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
“Darkly lyrical. . . . A truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down." —The Seattle Times
“Tender and lovely. . . . Equal parts page-turner and poem.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Mesmerizing.” — People
“Mandel delivers a beautifully observed walk through her book’s 21st century world…. I kept putting the book down, looking around me, and thinking, ‘Everything is a miracle.’”—Matt Thompson, NPR “Magnificent.” —Booklist “My book of the year.”—Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves “Unmissable. . . . A literary page-turner, impeccably paced, which celebrates the world lost.” —Vulture
“Haunting and riveting.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “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 “Think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. . . . Magnetic.” —Kirkus (starred)
“Even if you think dystopian fiction is not your thing, I urge you to give this marvelous novel a try. . . . [An] emotional and thoughtful story.” —Deborah Harkness, author of The Book of Life
“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” —The New Yorker
“Audacious. . . . A book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A surprisingly beautiful story of human relationships amid devastation.” —The Washington Post
“Soul-quaking. . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“A genuinely unsettling dystopian novel that also allows for moments of great tenderness. Emily St. John Mandel conjures indelible visuals, and her writing is pure elegance.” —Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
“Possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read.” —The Independent (London)
“A firework of a novel . . . full of life and humanity and the aftershock of memory.” —Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
“One of the best things I’ve read on the ability of art to endure in a good long while.” —Tobias Carroll, Electric Literature
“Will change the post-apocalyptic genre. . . . This isn’t a story about survival, it’s a story about living.” —Boston Herald
“A big, brilliant, ambitious, genre-bending novel. . . . Hands-down one of my favorite books of the year.” —Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
“Strange, poetic, thrilling, and grim all at once, Station Eleven is a prismatic tale about survival, unexpected coincidences, and the significance of art.” —Bustle, “Best Book of the Month”
“Disturbing, inventive and exciting, Station Eleven left me wistful for a world where I still live.” —Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist