I came to Station Eleven recently because it is the “common reading” for all incoming first year students where I study and work, at the University of Oregon. But we’re hardly the only one’s picking up Mandel’s new novel; it debuted on the NYTimes bestsellers lists for multiple weeks back when it was first published.
The book begins with Arthur Leander, a famous Hollywood actor, collapsing of a heart attack while performing as King Lear in a Toronto Theatre. Three weeks later, most of humanity is dead or dying.
In the pages that follow the reader zooms back and forth in time to see how different characters associated with the actor came to and struggled through the collapse of western civilization. There’s the man who tries to save Arthur as he collapses, a child actor who was on stage, Arthur’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a sinister self-proclaimed prophet.
A Shakespearean troupe, who call themselves the Travelling Symphony, wanders and performs twenty years after the flu dissolved the world as we know it. Their motto: “survival is insufficient.” This line, couched within its post-apocalyptic setting, and ripped straight from Star Trek Voyager, resonates as the book’s predominating thought-piece and proclamation. This novel forces its readers to question how any human artifact—a story, a play, a poem,—can long last in a fragile world, and how much we need these objects. Like Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” this novel throws aspirations to fame and lasting glory into serious jeopardy while also affirming the tenacious endurance of art and ideas through the trials of time.
Station Eleven, switching back and forth from before and after the dissolution of civilization, serves at times as a gripping thriller and at other moments as a solemn meditation of the ephemeral nature of fame, memory, and value of art to surviving harsh people in a harsh world.
“The art of our necessities is strange
That can make vile things precious.”– True, but this book hardly a vile thing is. It is precious: 4.
Availability: COSMOS, SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Shane D. Hall
Rating: Highly Recommended