An eerie, disturbing, chilling yet captivating novel. I don’t know what it was about this book, but it really did leave me feeling left on edge. Leave the World Behind was being pushed in every Waterstone’s I visited, and I soon managed to get a copy from my local library – keeping it in business!
Rumaan Alam provides a very close third person narrative, that it is borderline a story of the characters’ direct view of encounterings on their vacation break from New York City.
Amanda and Clay are in a rented Airbnb with their teenage kids, Rose and Archie. A chance for the parents to enjoy some getaway time from their jobs, catch up on some sex and let their kids watch tv or roam the grounds nearby. Based in a quiet, secluded part of a forest in pretty much the middle of nowhere, I quickly got the vibe that something wasn’t right: the fact Alam’s narrative was freakishly personal and as if he knew something they characters did not but really should.
From what quickly seems to be a novel about their holiday, Alam soon introduces themes of class, racism and prejudice as the family are disturbed one night by a black couple, G.H. and Ruth, claiming to own the property. Upon finishing, I’m not totally sure if they did own it or were part of the mystery in this dystopian fiction, but they make themselves at home as they take refuge from the windy night outside.
They slowly learn more about each other, where Amanda and Clay have to face their (unknown) discomfort of being in the presence of this black couple, whilst facing the strange news that major parts of the USA have been hit by power outages. This made me feel very alone with the characters, despite them still being on planet earth.
It soon seems that the animals know something they don’t as many deer start to appear, with Alam notifying us that whilst they scan see them staring into the house from the garden, there are in fact thousands more behind them within the forest… just picture that.
It found it difficult to decipher if the news was true, especially when none of them can access the internet properly, nor find their way around the area easily by vehicle, where G.H. is reluctant for them to even go out…
I started to get very weirded out, even though not much happens, Alam makes it seem like a lot does, but only by describing the details. Details such as a loud bang, but not just any bang, a piercing bang, deafening, earth-stilling. This infuriated me a little as it took a while for the story to reach any point, even upon finishing where I was left unsatisfied, yet shaken. But picture yourself in that situation, away from home with a random couple in the middle of nowhere surrounded by forest and lots of animals – including many flamingos in the pool! Just what is it that they know that humans do not, so much so that they have become fearless?
The unnerving parts which got me were at the very end, which I will give to Alam that he did a good job of: not much happens, yet he continues to entice the reader to carry on, even when not much did happen! I was left unsatisfied because one, I was left feeling chilled and unfulfilled, and two, the distressing parts experienced by Archie who starts vomiting and losing his teeth, and then Rose goes missing and isn’t even reunited with her family at the end… Sorry if that’s a spoiler for you, but I guess they’ve all left the original world they thought they knew behind.
But where could they head to next, not even feeling safe on earth?
One for you to think about. Will you be left with chills? Imagine if this is what the world came to and animals overtook us in their confidence.
rating – 2/5
genre – dystopian fiction, suspense, fiction