Discussed August 2018
By Emily St. John Mandel
Buy Station Eleven from Amazon.com
The Traveling Symphony:
August, the second violin
Dieter, an actor
Sayid, an actor
Alexandra, an actress
Charlie, the second cello
Jeremy, the sixth guitar
Sidney, the clarinet
Gil, the director
Tyler Leander, the Prophet
Elizabeth Colton, Arthur’s 2nd wife
Clark Thompson, Arthur’s friend
Daria, Jeevan’s wife
Eleanor, a run-away
François Diallo, publisher
Arthur Leander, actor
Victoria, Arthur’s friend
Miranda Carroll, Arthur’s 1st wife
Pablo, Miranda’s ex-boyfriend
Lydia Marks, Arthur’s 3rd wife
Tanya, Arthur’s last affair
Frank Chaudhary, Jeevan’s brother
Peter Raymonde, Kirsten’s brother
Robert, Clark’s boyfriend
- Did you finish the book?
- Did you like the book?
- The various characters’ past connections to Arthur form a central thread that ties together people otherwise separated in time and space. Did you enjoy this structure, or did you find Arthur’s constant reappearance in backstory overly coincidental?
- Station Eleven skips backward and forward in time, covering three periods: the time before the collapse, the immediate aftermath of the collapse, and 20 years later. Which part of the timeline did you find most engaging?
- Did you see a thematic connection between Station Eleven and Miranda’s fictional comic book of the same name? Did you feel the references to the Station Eleven comic book added to the story? Would you read the comic, if it existed?
- Was the Prophet, Tyler, a compelling villain? Did you anticipate his connection to Arthur? How did you feel about the portrayal of religion in Station Eleven?
- Station Eleven features one LGBT character--Clark--as well as his off-stage, presumed-dead boyfriend. How did you feel about the way Clark’s homosexuality was presented? Did you guess his sexuality before it was explicitly revealed?
- Mandel’s background is in literary fiction, and Station Eleven was published by a literary fiction imprint. Would you file it under science fiction or general fiction at a bookstore? How does her approach to storytelling and worldbuilding differ, if at all, from that of authors writing within the science fiction tradition?
- A central theme of Station Eleven is the importance of art to the human psyche and the notion that “survival is insufficient” without it. Do you agree? Until the end of the novel, the Traveling Symphony is primarily concerned with preserving the art of the old world, rather than creating new art. In a post-apocalyptic world, which would you find more important?
- Just as the Traveling Symphony focuses on reconstructing Shakespeare rather than creating new theater, they and most of the society around them scavenge through the material remains of the past for everything from clothing to vehicles rather than create new goods. Do you find this approach plausible? Various characters focus on the airplane as a symbol of the technology base they’ve lost; are there other lost technologies that would be easier for the small population of flu survivors to recreate?
- Almost everyone’s pre-apocalypse life in Station Eleven is portrayed as fundamentally empty or unmoored. “Adulthood’s full of ghosts,” one character declares. “I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed.” It takes the collapse of civilization to encourage characters like Jeevan and Clark to focus on what matters most to them. Do you agree with this take on modern life?
- Would you read other books by Emily St. John Mandel?