Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why Station Eleven Deserves All the Praise

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf September 2014
333 pages
From my shelves

Station Eleven

The performance of King Lear was like many before it, until leading actor Arthur Leander suffers a heart attack onstage. Jeevan Chaudhary puts his EMT skills into action as he tries to save the man's life as the horrified cast and audience look on. That night, crisis strikes as a fast-acting flu spreads throughout the cities of the world. Twenty years later, a young girl who acted alongside Arthur is all grown up and traveling with the Traveling Symphony. She and her companions perform the plays of Shakespeare and the music of the great composers to remind people that there is more to life than just surviving. Emily St. John Mandel deftly moves us from past to present, in and out of the lives of these characters, to show the imperceptible and major ways in which they impact each other.

By now, you have read 2.000 reviews or so of this book. You know what it's about. You know all of the bloggers who "couldn't put it down" and have found "one of this year's best books." But how do you know that this isn't another book where the hype is better than the story?


1. This author knows how to switch perspectives
Stories where the author moves from one character to another and one point in time to another can be tricky. We've all read books where we cared for one character more than another or wanted more pages about the first point in time instead of being whisked off to the past or the future. In Station Eleven, we meet three characters at the outset - renowned actor Arthur, EMT Jeevan, and child actress Kristen. They come together on the terrible night when Arthur has a heart attack. But then Mandel slowly and brilliantly shows us all of the ways in which they are connected. Nothing is wasted here with extra characters or unnecessary side trips to cute anecdotes.


2. The plot is terrifyingly plausible...but doesn't get caught up in the details or the hopelessness.
A flu spreads with speed through the population of the world and kills almost everyone. Javeen knows a tiny bit about what is happening since he talks to a doctor friend who is at ground zero. But the other characters know almost nothing about how the disease started or spread so quickly. As you read, it's easy to start to panic as you think about what you would do in an end of the world situation. But Mandel makes the smart decision to start at the time of crisis, but not to linger there. When we jump ahead, the disease has died out - but the people who are still left have to figure out how to survive day to day and what they have to live for.


3. Like all great books, this one is about what it means to live and to love.
Kristen travels with a group of musicians and actors who perform plays and music at the towns they pass through. On the side of their caravan they have painted the words "survival is not enough." While they  tease each other about being inspired by Star Trek, they also realize that just making it from one day to the next does not count as living. They need connection, they need art, and they need hope for a better world than the one they are experiencing. Those needs transcend time and place and make us all human.



What books have you read that deserved every bit of praise?

12 comments:

  1. And... I am still waiting for my turn with this book at the library! I like the way you broke down the reasons it worked for you!

    One book that deserves all its hype is definitely All The Light You Cannot See!

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    1. I agree completely. I asked (and received) a copy of All the Light We Cannot See for Christmas. It's such a beautiful book!

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  2. What a great post! I couldn't agree more.

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    1. Thanks Irene! I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes! I loved this one so hard!

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    1. Just so, so good. Have you read any of her other books?

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  4. I am really loving this book and although I haven't gotten very far in it, I totally agree with your points! Thanks for the review :)
    Juli @ Universe in Words

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    1. It's fun to see so many people reading and loving this book over the past few months!

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  5. I still haven't gotten to this one, but all the reviews I've read agree with you about it living up to the hype. Definitely one I need to read!

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    1. Read it. Read it! This is one of those few books I really want to encourage people to read. :)

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  6. I somehow didn't see this post until now -- it's showing up as having posted "0 minutes ago" in my blog roll.

    Oh, I so agree with everything you say here. THis book was brilliantly paced and well written, two things that don't always, or even often, go hand in hand.

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    1. Right? There is something that strikes you every so often as you read and you think "yes, this." It's hard to define, but it's definitely present on every page of Station Eleven.

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