TITLE OF THE BOOK: Station Eleven
AUTHOR: Emily St. John MandelPUBLISHER: Knopf
NUMBER OF PAGES: 336
YEAR PUBLISHED: 2014
READING LEVEL: Adult
GENRE: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Post Apocalyptic
SUMMARY: Station Eleven is a novel that moves back and forth through time. It spans over decades before and after the Georgia Flu hits, killing 99% of the world’s population in a matter of weeks. It’s the story of many different characters and how their lives are unknowingly intertwined with one another. Including, Arthur Leander, a famous actor and his life before the outbreak. Jeevan the man who tries to save him and how he himself tries to survive. Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony, a small group of survivors who travel though their territory performing Shakespeare to the different communities in the post-apocalyptic world. It’s a beautiful story of love, relationships, hardships, and survival.
OUR GROUP STAR RATING...
Our rating was 3.5 out of 5 stars.
OUR GROUP REVIEW: Kellie did an amazing job of moderating this book. It was also in her gorgeous backyard. We would all be so lucky to live in such a beautiful area in place of an apocalypse lol!
Kellie had all of us bring an “artifact” to represent something we would miss if the world ever collapsed for our very own “Museum of Civilization”. We started out the discussion by going around and everyone explaining the artifact they brought. There was, I’m sure about a hundred different things that people could have brought that they would miss and it was fun to see the variety. Some of the items included, headphones, contact solution, curling iron, camera, laptop, cell phone, TV remote, personal hygiene items, fan representing AC, being able travel, and many more things. Most of these things we use every day and take for granted. When I was reading this book and thinking about what to bring it made me really appreciate things likes electricity how lucky I am to have so many luxury items that I use every day.
Q: What did we like and/or dislike?
A: This book brought out some great discussion and the author did a great job of adding things that made you think. The ratings that we gave for this book were very different. Some people loved it and some didn’t like it as much. Everyone agreed that it was written beautifully and very well. Mandel is a great writer and while some people loved the style the book was written in, some others didn’t. A lot of girls loved how the book switched back and forth through time and thought it added to the story, but for some it took away from the story and they felt they didn’t connect as well with the characters. The ending wasn’t exactly a favorite as well. For most people it ended too quickly and left to many unanswered questions, It didn’t wrap things up the way we would have hoped. Station Eleven makes you appreciate what you have and what things are important to you. We loved how it made you think and kept you guessing the whole time. Maybe the author just left unanswered questions to spark thought and conversations though. We did all agreed that this book stays with you after you read it and that in and of itself makes this a book we'd recommend.
Q: What did we think of the main characters?
A: There wasn’t really just one main character. Arthur was the "spoke" who held the whole story together and was the connecting piece in all the character’s lives, but he didn’t necessarily always make a positive influence on those around him. He wasn’t the most worthwhile character, but it was a unique idea to see one character connected to so many in such small ways. It makes you wonder how often that happens in real life. How many people are connected to the same person without knowing it. We loved Jeevan and his story, we just wished there was a little more of him. Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony were also our favorite characters. We loved what they were doing and loved the fact that they were doing what they loved even in their terrible circumstance. Some members even thought that the comic book was the main character. After all, the book was named after the comic. The comic book Station Eleven is a story within a story about Dr. Eleven and his imaginary world. It seems to parallel the actual book of Station Eleven. The life of the Undersea in the comic is similar to the life after the outbreak. The comic influenced and was a huge part of a lot of the character’s lives.
Q: The line from Star Trek, “Survival is Insufficient”, is the Traveling Symphony’s motto. What does that mean?
A: We really liked this saying and it is mentioned in the book multiple times. It basically means that you can’t just survive something; you have to live and enjoy life. That’s exactly what the Traveling Symphony did. Even in this hard post-apocalyptic world they were still doing what they love. Theater, art, and performing are so important to them and they want to continue doing it and preserve it for the new world. It brought joy to them and others around them. It helped their audience to forget their worries for a bit.
In the book Clark notices "phone sleepwalkers," people who are so focused on their phone they miss out on the life going on around them. If you don’t enjoy life and love what you do you can be a sleep walker throughout your life. That’s why “Survival is Insufficient”, you must do more than just exist.
Q: Should we teach our children about the past?
A: In the book, Kirsten learns that children in some of the towns they pass through didn't know the world had ever been different before the outbreak. We all disagreed with this train of logic, we agreed that its always better to teach about the past, how the world used to be, so we can learn from it and do our best to make better choices and preperations for future generations. If you teach about the past, it might give the survivors hope and inspire them that society can get back to something meaningful again. That’s why a “Museum of Civilization” was so important, to preserve pieces of the past to teach what's really important.
Q: Would you risk the dangers to travel to new areas or stay put to survive?
A: In the book there are a few different scenarios where people have the opportunity to leave, but they don’t know what they will be heading into. Most of us agreed that if we were with our family, we would probably stay put and try to build a safe life where we ended up together vs continuing to travel. But, if we were separated from family, we would risk the dangers and unknown to find them or if we had no family left why not travel to see what's left?
Q: What were our overall thoughts?
A: Overall we really liked this book. It’s different, unique, exciting, mysterious and beautifully written. It makes you think about humanity, survival and what matters most. The author did such an amazing job of threading everything together it makes you want to re-read it as soon as you finish it. It makes you aware of how prepared/unprepared you are if something like this were to happen. It’s a book that stays with you after you finish it. This book makes such a wonderful book club book, there are so many interesting things to discuss!
“I Want It All” - A Conversation with Emily St. John Mandel
By: Sarah McCarry
Sarah McCarry: One of the things I particularly loved about Station Eleven is what I read as its deep faith that human beings are, for the most part, basically decent, which sets it apart from most novels that deal with the collapse of civilization. Bad things happen in the book, certainly, and people do not always behave in keeping with their highest selves, but at the end of the day most of the characters are doing their best to take care of each other. Was that a conscious choice on your part? Did you ever consider going with a more conventional after-the-apocalypse-it’ll-be-all-rape-and-mayhem approach?
Emily St. John Mandel: It was absolutely a conscious choice on my part. I’m drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction, but I had no interest in writing a horror novel, which is why most of the post-apocalyptic action of the book is set twenty years after the apocalypse.
My assumption is that in the immediate aftermath of a complete societal collapse, it probably would all be rape and mayhem. But probably not forever, because constant mayhem isn’t a particularly sustainable way of life and because I harbor a possibly naïve but stubborn notion that the overwhelming majority of people on earth really just want to live peacefully and raise their kids and go about their business with a minimum of fear and insecurity. So I think that the initial spasms of violence would most likely eventually subside, and people would start figuring out ways to live together again, with systems of local government and division of labor and such. I think that twenty years after the collapse, there’s a fair chance that at least some parts of the world would be fairly tranquil.
SM: What are a few of your favorite post-apocalyptic novels?
EM: I really liked A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I read as a teenager and have been meaning to reread ever since. I think that was probably the first post-apocalyptic novel I read. Also Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. A major factor in my decision to go with Knopf was that my editor there also edited The Dog Stars.
I am especially indebted to that book, because while I was well into writing Station Eleven by the time I read it and maybe even had a complete draft at that point, The Dog Stars was where I encountered the extremely important fact that automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. I like to think I would’ve come across this anyway, eventually, in the course of all the unsettling hours I spent reading survivalist forums and taking notes on how things fall apart, but maybe I wouldn’t have. If not for that book, probably I would have had something gasoline-powered in Year Twenty and received approximately a million Helpfully Correcting Emails from readers. (I get a few of these for every book. They all say “Hi Emily, I really liked your book, but just wanted to take a few minutes to email you and point out this tiny little detail you got wrong, even though it’s obviously way too late for you to do anything about it so the only impact this email can possibly have is to make you feel vaguely embarrassed and/or regretful.” Or, you know, words to that effect.)
SM: Station Eleven shares a lot with your previous books stylistically—like all your work, the language is just beautiful, the characters are so complex and vivid, the plotting is flawless—but it’s a big departure for you in terms of subject matter. Do you think of Station Eleven as speculative fiction?
EM: Thank you for the compliments! I don’t think of Station Eleven as speculative fiction, but it doesn’t bother me if other people want to categorize it as such. Or perhaps a better way of putting it is that I didn’t set out to write speculative fiction.
Genre is something I’ve thought a lot about. I don’t know how to define literary fiction. I’m not sure anyone does. It might be one of those “I know it when I see it” things, like pornography. I do know that with all four books I’ve started out trying to write a literary novel, which is to say a book wherein the language itself is very, very important, a book where I’m trying to cast a certain spell through the rhythm of the prose. But that isn’t enough for me. I want it all. I want the language to be important, I want the characters to be as fully-formed as possible, and I also want a strong plot. With my first novel, Last Night in Montreal, I was surprised to discover that if you write a literary novel with a crime in the plot, you’ve written a crime novel.
I found that I liked writing literary novels with crimes, or crime novels, or whatever you want to call those things, so I stayed with it for the two books that followed, The Singer’s Gun and The Lola Quartet. With Station Eleven I wanted to write something different, so I set out to write a literary novel that takes place partly in the future. But, well, it turns out if you set your novel partly in the future, you’ve written speculative fiction.
In conclusion: I am apparently terrible at writing literary fiction. It always veers off into something else.
SM: What drew you to the idea of collapse?
EM: I’m not sure how or why this interest began, but I’ve been interested for a long time in how fragile civilization is. It seems to me that a great deal of what we take for granted could fail quite easily.
SM: I am somewhat obsessed with this question myself; I’ve been thinking about these questions for a long time anyway, but you can’t live in New York for very long without realized how completely, utterly perilous the whole thing is and how little it would take for everything to go very south very quickly.
EM: Absolutely. There’s a certain vulnerability in living here.
SM: At the same time, when things do go badly here—the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, for example—the vast majority of people choose to look after one another rather than capitalize on disaster; I am thinking of the enormous number of people who mobilized as entirely self-organized volunteers to bring food and water and medical assistance to people who were trapped in horrifying circumstances. Station Eleven is, to me, ultimately a very hopeful book, despite its painful moments; are there real-world stories that give you that sense of hope when you’ve been thinking too long about civilization failing?
EM: I’m glad the hopefulness of the book comes through. And yes, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was very reassuring. When I think of disaster, I’m reassured by stories of people who retain their humanity under unspeakable circumstances. I sometimes find myself thinking about Irena Sendler. She was a social worker living in Warsaw during the Second World War, and she presided over an operation that spirited 2,500 infants and small children out of the Warsaw ghetto before it was liquidated.
SM: The central texts that survive the fall and bind the characters together throughout the book couldn’t be more different at the superficial level—Shakespeare’s King Lear, on the one hand, and a self-published comic book, on the other. What appealed to you about that contrast? Why Shakespeare, and why Station Eleven?
EM: Shakespeare for a few reasons. It seems to me that in a post-apocalyptic scenario, people would want what was best about the lost world, and in my entirely subjective opinion, what was best about our world would include the plays of William Shakespeare. There are also a couple of natural parallels between my post-pandemic world and the time in which Shakespeare lived: in Elizabethan England, theater was often a matter of small companies traveling from town to town, and it was pleasing to think of a world in which a traveling company might once again set out onto the road, performing by candlelight in small towns. Also, it seems to me that the citizenry of Elizabethan England would have been haunted by the memory of pandemics in the recent past. The plague swept over England again and again in those years, and it brushed close against Shakespeare’s life. Three of his siblings and his only son were probable plague victims.
It’s interesting to consider which texts and objects would survive an apocalyptic event. It would of course be mostly a matter of chance, and that’s where the comic books come in. The comic books survive solely because a character, who was a child when the world ended, happens to find them meaningful and somehow manages not to lose them over a lifetime on the road. I liked the contrast between texts that were very consciously preserved and texts that survived by happenstance.
SM: What books would you want to have around after the apocalypse?
EM: A few of my favorite novels, which would be almost impossible to narrow down but would definitely include Jennifer Egan’s "A Visit From The Goon Squad," Joseph Boyden’s "Three Day Road," Marilynne Robinson’s "Gilead," Irene Nemirovsky’s "SuiteFrançaise," Donna Tartt’s "The Secret History," Ann Patchett’s "Bel Canto," Roberto Bolano’s "2666," Patrick DeWitt’s "The Sisters Brothers," Also Saul Bellow’scollected letters, a complete road atlas for the United States and Canada, and a first aid guide.
HEAVY (The F word is used multiple times)
MODERATE (Many people die and are killed, but without too much violent detail)
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