Refuge Book Club - “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel - 2/16

I’m open to anything. If people want to break up the questions and post a few at a time, great. Whole hog might work too as people can drill down into answers and go from there.

There’s probably not a right or wrong way to do this. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t and we can adjust going forward. I hope there will be another!


This is a good take. To build off of this, every time that Ford made a proper reference to that or “Good People” there seemed to be underlying commentary on the acceptance of a place in society that superseded any actual substance, however, I do think there is a tonal change as the book progresses and Dowell starts to actually detail more substance. (I think this actually works into question #2)

To get the ball rolling on question #1:

What do you think of John Dowell? Dowell is famous (or infamous) as one of literature’s most unreliable narrators. In what way can he be considered “unreliable”?

The character himself seems almost overjoyed to live aloof. He plays into the narrative that I mentioned above in regard to acceptance of societal hierarchy as a representation of merit and character. It feels almost as if he has broken the third wall and is making a commentary while watching his own life pass without actually living it, but with absolute acceptance of his circumstances. The conflicting nature of Dowell comes through in his seemingly random outbursts of thought that contradict how he has been building in his story (which also matched the non-linear writing style of the novel). However, I think by the end of the novel, you realize that a great deal of the outburst come from Dowell’s conflict of caring about Edward (either via envy or idolizing his ability to show emotion), rather than his wife, or his own existence, which constantly skews the perception of right/wrong or even having an understanding of antagonist/protagonist of the story.

I get very similar feelings from reading Dowell as I get from my sympathy towards Lester Burnham (Spacey) in American Beauty. I’ll just leave that there.



I’m good with whatever. Zoom might be a way to go if we find writing is insufficient.


I like the idea of conversation. How many people are we talking? 10 or less probably works reasonably with zoom.

I have meetings all morning, will post a google doc afterwards to get a sense.

Also what red wine goes best with book club? :wink:


The one closest to you.


I’m guessing @Hala-Mark-Rey would suggest you can’t go wrong with a Pinot Noir. :slight_smile:

@Sarah @BeenMacKenzied I would imagine that John Dowell would be drinking a red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) from France, while contemplating his own role in the saddest story ever told.


Ok, I put together a google doc to get a sense of how many people would be interested in participating and in what sort of forum. Not a vote for zoom vs. in thread discussion, just a sense of what people would want to participate in. If we do end up throwing up a zoom, the dates I have on there may be too early, but we can explore that further on if need be. There is a really good chance I did not set this up right, so just let me know if you have any issues.

To me, this is going to be the most interesting question: namely, is Dowell a sympathetic character. I know there’s a lot of discussion around whether he’s a reliable narrator, but whether he’s sympathetic strikes me as equally interesting (albeit, you really can’t unpack these questions in isolation). I won’t be surprised to find myself on the other end of that question than many, but in any event, I think there’s a lot there to discuss.

It really is a fantastic little book. In some respects, it’s so simple but when you start unpacking it, there’s a lit of layers within the narrative. Is it the saddest story ever? Who can say…but it sure made me think.


Thanks for putting that doc together, Sarah. I added my info there.

A couple of thoughts as I await whether we’re zooming or discussing here–

Question 1:

I don’t think I fully grasp why Dowell is such an unreliable narrator. Is it something inherent in his character? Is he just oblivious to reality and therefore how could we trust anything he says? Is he devious on purpose?

My sense was he’s certainly oblivious, if we’re to believe he really didn’t know of anything Florence was up to. But when I think “unreliable,” I think of a narrator purposefully telling lies or misconstruing the truth. I didn’t really pick that up from Dowell, but I admit I may have missed some big cues or hints.

Question 2:

Dowell considering the Ashburnhams ‘good people’ resonates with me. I think my default position is to assume the best in people, and at times, in a bad way, this quality perhaps creates a bit of naivety in me. I think Dowell’s standard of goodness seems mainly class-based, along with an inherent assumption of goodness in people ‘like’ him. I think, whether or not I want to admit this, I have a bit of this default setting in myself.

Question 7:

I found myself sympathetic to Leonora, even really enjoying her during the first half of the book. I think she also has Stockholm syndrome, or (psychological) battered woman’s syndrome by the end, and she turns into a tragic character as I felt her loss of control with regard to Edward in a visceral way. Seems that she was fighting an impossible battle to harness Edward’s wandering eye, though she retained hope, largely, throughout. I thought the reference to Rodney Bayham having a mistress was a cherry on top of Leonora’s misery.

Question 12:

I don’t really sympathize with Edward much. I guess if his nature is truly so sensitive and big-hearted he just can’t help himself with all these mistresses, but come on, I was having a tough time feeling any sympathy at all. In fact, I was kind of glad Nancy stiffed him in the end, as I feel like that’s what Leonora had to feel for years and years. That said, I think the real “Good Soldier” is Dowell, if he’s to be believed and trusted. Followed by Leonora. Dowell faithfully takes care of of Florence for years and years, then takes care of Nancy at the end. In this way he is soldiering through duties. I think it’s a shame Dowell and Leonora can’t end up together.

Question 16:

I didn’t find myself really ‘liking’ any of the characters. I was sympathetic to Leonora, and felt bad for Dowell, and think Nancy was used like a pawn, but nothing in the book made me like any of them. I wasn’t really rooting for anybody or anything, more reading to see what happened as a curious, impartial observer.

I think I was satisfied with how the novel ends. As I wasn’t attached to anybody, I wasn’t really ‘rooting’ for anything. Seems like a lot of unhappy people who, for the most part (maybe Nancy excepted as she was young when dragged into all this) remain unhappy or die unhappy. Kind of reinforces the notion that life can suck no matter your station in life, the difference with these people is that they sort of made their beds. That sounds a little cruel but oh well.


The book is so synonymous with the concept of unreliable narrator that I really didn’t give this question sufficient thought - when the book was first suggested my first association with it was "Oh. that’s the one with the unreliable narrator!

In further reflection, I do think there’s still something, at the very least, “off” with Dowell - will have to try to write through some of my thoughts in greater detail at some point.


It looks like Friday (today) is the only option that work work for everyone but wondering if we should push it back to next Friday (the 24th) so as to allow more people to finish the book and get involved.

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I would love to get involved if y’all push it back a week.

Next Friday works well for me. It’s a quick enough read to pull others that mentioned interest above into the mix?

So many rich areas for discussion with this one. Keep preparing to type out a few things and kind of spin my wheels (not that I won’t fight through it and post anyway).

I think so!

Agree - part of wanting to push it back is to give me some more time to go over some different parts and think through things a little further


Let’s keep a week from tonight as open as we can with the knowledge that we might not get everyone.

Already great takes from @Randy @BeenMacKenzied and @HuckandPray on the board. Just reading other’s views makes me ponder my own take, so will commit to at least a little thread fodder this weekend pre discussion time. @DuckDuckHook get to reading!!

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I just got it Tuesday, should be able to finish this weekend. This is my first time using Kindle or any kind of e-Reader, which is frankly taking some getting used to, especially with the disjointed and unique grammatical narration from Mr. Dowell.

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Next Friday works! I may chew on my thoughts a bit more.


Assuming people are down, we should draw or nominate somebody to make the next book selection at the conclusion of our talk. Could randomize or create a ‘batting order’ to follow…


I like this concept. And next Friday sounds great.