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Monday, August 25, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a dystopian novel, but one with an important theme that I have not seen in the many other dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels I've read.  And the theme is what resonates most with me, setting the novel apart from others in the genre:  "Because survival is insufficient."

The quote comes from a Star Trek: Voyager episode and is adopted by Kirstin, an actress with the Traveling Symphony troupe that travels from outpost to outpost taking Shakespeare and music to the survivors.  A child when the Georgia Flu epidemic hit and decimated the world's population, Kirstin has the quote tattooed on her arm--a reminder that there is more to life than simply managing to survive the devastation and chaos caused by the collapse of society and the infrastructure that supported it.  

The little band of actors and musicians bring the beauty of art and culture to the settlements that have arisen in the fifteen years since the collapse.  It is a dangerous world,  one without hospitals and medicine, with violent bands of marauders and unfriendly settlements, where any mishap can lead to death.  Yet the troupe members feel compelled to practice their arts and to share them whenever possible. Because survival is insufficient -- there must be more to feed the soul, the heart, the mind.  The players and the audience both need the reminders of music and art. does all of this begin?  With Arthur Leander, an actor playing King Lear; an audience member who sees a situation and jumps on the stage to give aid; a child actor to whom Arthur has been kind; an ex-wife and graphic novelist; and the onset of the Georgia Flu which floods the hospitals which are helpless and unable to stem the rising death toll.

The stories are revealed piecemeal as the book moves back and forth in time:  before the pandemic, the onset that sets our players in motion, and the aftermath, fifteen years later. Mandel manages all of these stories and their backgrounds seamlessly, connecting and inter-connecting them.  An interesting element in the novel involves what people remember from "the time before," what they miss; how old a survivor was at the time of the collapse is important, and the youngest survivors have limited memories, unsure of even those.

And Station Eleven?  Station Eleven is a limited edition graphic novel that plays an important role in several lives and provides its own parallel story.  Art, music, drama, literature, story important are they in what we consider civilization?



Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic.  Sept. 9, 2014.  Print length:  352 pages


  1. The premise of this sounds terrific. I am also intrigued by the fact that this is a graphic novel. I rarely read them, so it would be a nice change of pace.

  2. Irene - No, the novel takes its name from a graphic novel one of the characters has written. The graphic novel provides a kind of parallel story to what actually happens. Sorry about the confusion!

  3. This appears to be a refreshing read from other dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels I read. They're usually a hit or miss for me, so I'm quite picky when it comes to such themes.

    I'm quite intrigued with this though. Thanks for the review! :)

  4. I've enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel's books in the past. She always seems to do something a little different. I hadn't heard of this one before, but it does sound good.

  5. Melody - I read a lot of dystopian fiction, but I'm rarely completely satisfied and often totally let down. I liked this one because of the cultural twist: "Because survival is insufficient."

    Wendy - Oh, maybe you have a suggestion for my next read by this author? I've never read her before, but this novel engaged me because of the importance of art to the performers and to society.

  6. I liked both books I read by her, but Last Night in Montreal was my favorite. I also read The Singer's Gun and enjoyed it.