Book Review: Station Eleven


“Survival is insufficient.”

I went rogue this week.

In a departure from following my "to read" list, I decided to follow good marketing. Namely, I picked up Station Eleven because it bore the "National Book Award Finalist" sticker (ooooh!!! shiny!!) and the jacket cover was ridiculously riveting.

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Distopian/Sci-Fi/Mystery combo - this is not part of my usual reading gig.

Still, that summary.  I had to know if it lived up to its billing. If you're in a rush, the short answer is, yes, it mostly does.

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

The entire book reads like an action movie. I have to imagine this is being developed into a movie because it's a satisfying yarn with a nice assortment of characters and a setting which is both familiar and strange. There are thoughts about losing our modernity which twist your mind.

“No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”

There are profound thoughts about death, survival, and our ability to find meaning in life.

“She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it, either central to her days or unseen and infrequently thought of. How without any one of these people the world is a subtly but unmistakably altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.”

Or a different character facing his demons.

“He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret.”

Even when the author describes routine events like old friends meeting, she does so with insight.

“The disorientation of meeting one’s sagging contemporaries, memories of a younger face crashing into the reality of jowls, under-eye pouches, unexpected lines, and then the terrible realization that one probably looks just as old as they do.”

Sure, you have to stick with the first few chapters because it takes some effort to keep the timelines (pre- and post- "collapse") and characters straight, but it's very much worth the effort.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read.