New & Noteworthy Book Club Approved: Station Eleven

~post by Jan

They slugged through the freezing rain on Thursday night, bundled in cotton and wool and denim. Upon arrival, they threaded through the warm, smiling bookstore crowds, up to the third floor–dark and quiet and spotted with rubble from recent (de)construction work. The thirteen women, mostly strangers, sat in a circle, sipped on some beer, and talked…about art.

It was a perfect parallel to the work under discussion: Emily St. John Mandel’s eerie Station Eleven. Mandel’s story follows the stories of several characters (connected through their interactions and relationships to Arthur Leander, an aging actor who dies on the eve of the apocalypse) trying to make it through the first days after a devastating superflu kills off the majority of humanity–what they cling to (be it forgotten technologies or comic books or gossip magazine clippings) and where they find meaning (Shakespeare and Star Trek and the New Testament).

Discussion began by answering the question: which character or setting do you most relate to or see yourself in within this story? Attendees gave a beautiful variety of answers; no one seemed unprepared for this question. Everyone obviously thought very deeply about the setting of the novel. Some of us live like Clark, in the airport, clinging to the technologies and luxuries of a past world (I volunteer to be Archivist of the Apocalypse; this is my new title and I refuse to answer to anything else). Some of us become hermits, eking out a living alone or only those we love in the mountains on those uncharted regions on the map, like Jeevan. More than one of us realistically admit to being one of those who die in the first wave–hopefully, like Miranda, watching a stunning sunset off the coast of Thailand (a beautiful death to be sure, but Demi is not allowed to rewrite the story to include a tropical drink and a pool boy–at least not this story).

In roughly an hour, we covered everything from our jealousy that these characters witness the return of unexplored geographies and bright, brilliant starlight to our nightmares about the parked plane (the quintessential 21st century symbol of the death and the unknown: anything could be inside from Heaven to Hell to nothing). But we all agreed that this is an uplifting post-apocalyptic novel–one that made us feel good after reading it. How can a novel filled with so much death and violence and trauma be so darn dazzling? It made us see the light–that we are the Light.

Just kidding, I’m not ending this by making us the cult members. We’re really cool people. We play BINGO. We talk about beauty…because, after all, “survival is insufficient.”


The New & Noteworthy Book Club meets once a month to discuss some of the most notable books on our shelves. Join Jan and Demi Thursday, February 26 to discuss Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. 

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