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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, narrated by Kirsten Potter, opens with the on stage demise of Arthur Leander, a famous actor who has a number of wives and feels disconnected from his own son. While a few of the characters are connected with Leander, those connections really don’t matter in the grand scheme of the novel, and many of the tertiary characters met at the beginning die weeks into the epidemic after his death. Mandel may be using the distance from the characters to create a sense that who lives and dies is random and without purpose, but it’s a blunt instrument that leaves little room for connection between the reader and the characters that have adventures in the book.

The Traveling Symphony is the most intriguing with its odd cast of characters and Kirsten Raymonde’s tattoo from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” She was present on stage as Leander died, and her life since the epidemic is one she would rather not have endured, though she maintains her spirits. As these cast members, for that’s how they are portrayed, deal with the aftermath of civilization, it’s a wonder that any art or creativity remains, especially when there are men like the Prophet willing to engage in bigamy with young girls and spout nonsense to their people about being the chosen ones — so long as they obey him.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, narrated by Kirsten Potter, was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist that wowed many, but I felt a bit distant from the action and the characters. While I enjoyed this story and the vignettes and the back and forth between the present and the past in this post-apocalyptic story, Mandel kept me at too far a distance from her characters. She’s attempting to comment on the need for something more than just survival when disaster strikes and how to do it, but much of it is lost in the mire.  Like the traveling artists that take to the pop-up cities and towns after the Georgia Flu kills 99% of the population, readers will feel like they don’t get a deep feel for the places visited or the people they spend time with.  The stories are interesting and kept my attention, but there was too much time spent wondering where it was all going and what the point was.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Emily St. John Mandel was born and raised on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied contemporary dance at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York.

Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, is forthcoming in September 2014. All three of her previous novels—Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet—were Indie Next Picks, and The Singer’s Gun was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystere de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and essays have been anthologized in numerous collections, including Best American Mystery Stories 2013. She is a staff writer for The Millions. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Mailbox Monday #168

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Diary of an Eccentric.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  Made Priceless: A Few Things Money Can’t Buy edited by H.L. Hix, which I received from Hix since I am a contributor.

Made Priceless presents snapshots of objects that their holders treasure: a 1950s swivel rocker, a fortune-cookie fortune that reads “The rubber bands are heading in the right direction” a marble with a world map painted on it, a bread-baking pan, a bar of soap, crocheted doilies, a masonry trowel… Each object has its own story, each its own meaning. The book’s contributors include artists, a banker, a retired career military officer, secretaries, a pilot, stay-at-home mothers, students, professors, and others, each with a testament in praise of something priceless. The result is a remarkable collection that honors what money can’t buy, and celebrates the extraordinary significance in an ordinary things.

2. Restoration by Olaf Olafsson, which the Literate Housewife passed on to me. Thanks so much!

Having grown up in an exclusive circle of wealthy British ex-pats in Florence in the 1920s, Alice Orsini shocks everyone when she marries the son of a minor Italian landowner and begins restoring San Martino, a crumbling villa in Tuscany, to its former glory. But after years of hard work, filling the acres with orchards, livestock, and farmhands, Alice’s growing restlessness pulls her into the heady social swirl of wartime Rome and a reckless affair that will have devastating consequences.

Her indiscretion is noticed by careful eyes—those of Robert Marshall, a renowned dealer of renaissance art. In exchange for his silence, he demands Alice hide a priceless Caravaggio, a national treasure that he has sold to the Germans, at San Martino. As the front creeps toward Tuscany, sending a wave of orphans, refugees, and wounded Allies to San Martino, Alice trusts that the painting she’s hiding will keep the Germans at bay. What she doesn’t know is the truth about a brilliant young artist she harbors named KristÍn, a prodigy who can restore any painting, and whose secrets may ruin them all.

Trapped between loyalists and resistors, cruel German forces and Allied troops, Alice and KristÍn must withstand the destruction of everything around them while painfully confronting the consequences of their past mistakes.

3. The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel, which came from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Gavin Sasaki is a promising young journalist in New York City, until he’s fired in disgrace following a series of unforgivable lapses in his work. It’s early 2009, and the world has gone dark very quickly; the economic collapse has turned an era that magazine headlines once heralded as the second gilded age into something that more closely resembles the Great Depression. The last thing Gavin wants to do is return to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida, but he’s drifting toward bankruptcy and is in no position to refuse when he’s offered a job by his sister, Eilo, a real estate broker who deals in foreclosed homes.

Eilo recently paid a visit to a home that had a ten-year-old child in it, a child who looks very much like Gavin and who has the same last name as Gavin’s high school girlfriend Anna, whom Gavin last saw a decade ago. Gavin—a former jazz musician, a reluctant broker of foreclosed properties, obsessed with film noir and private detectives—begins his own private investigation in an effort to track down Anna and their apparent daughter who have been on the run all these years from a drug dealer from whom Anna stole $121,000.

What did you receive?

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night in Montreal, a debut novel, reads like sketched notes in a private investigator’s notebook. With chapters that alternate between the past and present and a variety of characters, readers will feel like they are investigating a child abduction case, while garnering a better understand of human motives and emotions.

“She’d been disappearing for so long that she didn’t know how to stay.” (Page 9 of the uncorrected proof)

Lilia Albert is abducted by her father, and as they move around the United States in and out of hotels, her sense of home is vanquished. She no longer knows how to stop and settle into a “normal” life. As an adult she continues to move from place to place, carrying with her the only photograph from her past that she has–a Polaroid of her and a waitress. Lilia is a complex character, her emotions deep below the surface, and she meets a variety of people along the way–Eli, an art gallery salesman working on his thesis; Erica, a girl from Chicago with blue hair; and Michaela, an exotic dancer and part-time tightrope walker from Montreal.

“She came out all dressed in black, as she almost always did, and carrying the three pieces of plate that had fallen off the bed the night before; it was a light shade of blue, and sticky with pomegranate juice.” (Page 2 of the uncorrected proof)

Mandel peppers each chapter with just enough description and information to keep the pages turning, as readers strive to uncover the moment when Lilia’s life changed and why it changed. But this mystery is more than what happens to Lilia, it’s about how an obsession can rip apart a private investigator’s family, encourage an ex-lover to step outside his comfort zone, and the myriad ways in which humans react to disturbing events from the past.

“Lilia’s childhood memories took place mostly in parks and public libraries and motel rooms, and in a seemingly endless series of cars. Mirage: she used to see water in the desert. In the heat of the day it pooled on the highway, and the horizon broke into shards of white. There was a map folded on the dashboard, but it was fading steadily under the barrage of light; Lilia was supposed to be the navigator but entire states were dissolving into pinkish sepia, the lines of highways fading to gray. The names of certain cities were indistinct now along the fold, all the borders were vanishing.” (Page 7 of the uncorrected proof)

Readers will itch to reach the resolution of this abduction case, not only to discover why Lilia’s father took her from her mother and brother, but also to see Lilia recover many of her earlier memories settled behind the dust kicked up by her continuous travels. The one minor drawback could be the chapters featuring the private detective and his obsessive pursuit of Lilia and her father even when he no longer desires their capture; these chapters dispel some of the suspense built up in previous chapters. However, Eli, Michaela, and Lilia’s story lines twist and mingle throughout the novel, and Mandel does well shifting between points of view. Last Night in Montreal is not a typical mystery, but still satisfying.

About the Author:
Emily St. John Mandel was born on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 1979. She studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

Check out this video for her book.

If you missed Emily’s guest post on Savvy Verse & Wit about her writing space, please check it out, here.

Also Reviewed By:

Violet Crush
Bookfoolery and Babble
Care’s Online Book Club
Everyday I Write the Book
She Is Too Fond of Books 
Musings of a Bookish Kitty 

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night in Montreal, a debut novel, reads like sketched notes in a private investigator’s notebook. With chapters that alternate between the past and present and a variety of characters, readers will feel like they are investigating a child abduction case, while garnering a better understand of human motives and emotions.

“She’d been disappearing for so long that she didn’t know how to stay.” (Page 9 of the uncorrected proof)

Lilia Albert is abducted by her father, and as they move around the United States in and out of hotels, her sense of home is vanquished. She no longer knows how to stop and settle into a “normal” life. As an adult she continues to move from place to place, carrying with her the only photograph from her past that she has–a Polaroid of her and a waitress. Lilia is a complex character, her emotions deep below the surface, and she meets a variety of people along the way–Eli, an art gallery salesman working on his thesis; Erica, a girl from Chicago with blue hair; and Michaela, an exotic dancer and part-time tightrope walker from Montreal.

“She came out all dressed in black, as she almost always did, and carrying the three pieces of plate that had fallen off the bed the night before; it was a light shade of blue, and sticky with pomegranate juice.” (Page 2 of the uncorrected proof)

Mandel peppers each chapter with just enough description and information to keep the pages turning, as readers strive to uncover the moment when Lilia’s life changed and why it changed. But this mystery is more than what happens to Lilia, it’s about how an obsession can rip apart a private investigator’s family, encourage an ex-lover to step outside his comfort zone, and the myriad ways in which humans react to disturbing events from the past.

“Lilia’s childhood memories took place mostly in parks and public libraries and motel rooms, and in a seemingly endless series of cars. Mirage: she used to see water in the desert. In the heat of the day it pooled on the highway, and the horizon broke into shards of white. There was a map folded on the dashboard, but it was fading steadily under the barrage of light; Lilia was supposed to be the navigator but entire states were dissolving into pinkish sepia, the lines of highways fading to gray. The names of certain cities were indistinct now along the fold, all the borders were vanishing.” (Page 7 of the uncorrected proof)

Readers will itch to reach the resolution of this abduction case, not only to discover why Lilia’s father took her from her mother and brother, but also to see Lilia recover many of her earlier memories settled behind the dust kicked up by her continuous travels. The one minor drawback could be the chapters featuring the private detective and his obsessive pursuit of Lilia and her father even when he no longer desires their capture; these chapters dispel some of the suspense built up in previous chapters. However, Eli, Michaela, and Lilia’s story lines twist and mingle throughout the novel, and Mandel does well shifting between points of view. Last Night in Montreal is not a typical mystery, but still satisfying.

About the Author:
Emily St. John Mandel was born on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 1979. She studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. She lives in Brooklyn.

Check out this video for her book.

If you missed Emily’s guest post on Savvy Verse & Wit about her writing space, please check it out, here.

Also Reviewed By:

Violet Crush
Bookfoolery and Babble
Care’s Online Book Club
Everyday I Write the Book
She Is Too Fond of Books 
Musings of a Bookish Kitty 

Guest Post: Emily St. John Mandel, Author of Last Night in Montreal

Emily St. John Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal, was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to share with us her writing space. She even included some great shots from her space for this tour.

Without further ado, here’s Emily and her writing space.


I do most of my writing in a small white room, typically with at
least one cat on my desk. I’ve thought about repainting (the room, not the cat), because off-white is pretty unadventurous, but I’m typically paralyzed by indecision when I visit paint stores and I have to admit, there’s something restful about the pallor of the room.

There’s a small desk and a wooden chair, a lamp, two bookshelves and two filing cabinets, a lot of books, and several uncontained avalanches of loose-leaf paper. Above my desk there’s a window; when I’m working I can’t see much above the air conditioner, just sky and a neighbor’s ancient TV antenna, but if I stand up there’s a landscape of Brooklyn rooftops and fire escapes. The room’s very quiet. There are neighbors who play bad music in a garden below the window on Sundays, but that’s what noise-blocking headphones are for.

There are photographs on the walls—street and subway photography from New York, Rome, and Montreal—and also two images from Google Maps that I find particularly gorgeous; both are satellite images of the north coast of Russia, improbable greens and deep blues and frozen lakes like silver mirrors. They remind me of stained glass. There’s also a particularly nice letter from my agent, which I keep on the wall for encouragement purposes; a poster for La Femme Nikita; and the most famous section from Raymond Chandler’s essay The Simple Art of Murder written out on a piece of scrap paper (“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption . . . ”)

Just above my desk there are innumerable little scraps of paper taped to the wall, containing notes of varying depth and legibility related to whatever project I’m presently working on. This is because my note-taking system isn’t particularly organized or actually even really a system, and there’s always some risk of losing whatever idea just occurred to me (see paragraph 2: “avalanches of loose-leaf paper”) if I don’t immediately stick it on the wall in front of my face.

I’ll occasionally become desperate for a change of scene and go work in the living room by the windows, looking down over the avenue four stories below, or I’ll go out and lose myself for a while with a stack of manuscript pages in the pleasant din of a local café. But this room is my oasis, and I spend a shocking percentage of my life working between these four walls with the door closed.

Thanks again to Emily for sharing with us her writing space. Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Last Night in Montreal.

Until then, check out this video and this post by Emily at Powell’s Books.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary

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