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{November 6, 2019}   {Review} Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

From Goodreads: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the 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 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.


What if the world as we know it ended? This question has been asked many a time, but I’ve never read nor seen a story quite like this one. While the premise is one we’ve all heard before, one in which an illness wipes out over 90% of the world’s population, every man is for himself, factions appear, prophets and cults immerge, and the roads are not safe, Mandel throws a curve ball into the mix by adding Shakespeare. Perhaps every English literature and theater buffs dream, this dystopian world follows a troupe of actors and musicians who travel up and down the east coast bringing merriment to the small groupings of people that make up little towns, as it were.  I found this group, the Traveling Symphony, to be quite an interesting idea, and it made me start wondering if humanity’s love of the arts would indeed survive if the world as we know it was decimated… and how something so taken for granted in today’s society–music and theater–could and would prevail, bringing joy in the darkest of times.

While a strange premise, I appreaciated Mandel’s decision to follow the actors, and yet, I found this novel to be a tad boring. Following five different people, the portion of the novel that I found the most interesting detailed life before the decimation of the world, one in which we learn about the famous hollywood actor who eventually dies onstage at the opening of the novel (and the others–though they didn’t do much for me). Life after the collapse was, in my opinion, rather boring and somewhat too cookie cutter, as the troupe mostly just marches around, and the danger, while expected, is quickly resolved and glossed over repeatedly, almost too hurried for me to enjoy it. But I did enjoy how Mandel brought the five key characters all together, and being able to pinpoint how the characters were related was fun for me, though I really felt that the climax of the story left much to be desired. However, while some aspects of the novel I felt were hurried and lacking, the premise of the novel was quite intriguing, and Mandel’s prose is beautiful to read. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover


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