Book Review – Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Holiday is over and it’s back down to Earth with a bump. Not only am I straight back to work but I’ve got some blogging to catch up on. I’m going to try and review as many books as possible this week, which sounds good in theory. However, it’s been a while since I’ve read some of them. Well, it’s been over a week with this one. Thankfully, we discussed it at book club on Wednesday. That should give me a bit of a chance to remember what I think about it.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for so long that I possibly hyped it up in my head. Although, it didn’t help that everything I’ve heard about it has been positive. The main thing that people say about this novel is that it’s unnerving. Having read it, I’m left wondering if I’ve misunderstood the definition of the word my whole life. This isn’t an unnerving story. It lacks suspense, shock and terror. Leave the World Behind isn’t a tense book. Leave the World Behind is a dull story. Although, there is a much more interesting story hiding just below the surface, which makes it so disappointing.

Throughout the book, Rumaan Alam sets up several more interesting narratives and then just goes in a much more boring direction. There was so much potential for something terrifying. I was to be on the edge of my seat. When Amanda and Clay head off with their two children for a holiday stay at an Air BnB, they are expecting to lounge by the pool, eat plenty of good food, and have a relaxing time. On their first night, a knock at the door changes everything. Ruth and G.H. turn up telling the couple that they own the house and that they need to stay the night. A blackout has left them worried to go back to the city. Are the couple hiding something? Or are they really just panicked?

Although, this mystery isn’t actually as important as the back of the book makes it seem. Amanda and Clay accept the situation pretty easily and there is very little tension between either couple. The younger couple requires very little evidence to accept that something terrible is going on in the outside world and quickly adjust to the news. It’s all a bit too easy and not very dramatic. I found it really hard to believe that a real person would be so calm at a moment like this. I mean, Amanda pretty much sees that the New York Times website is down and takes that as proof that society had broken down. It’s madness.

For much of the novel, we just wait around with this group of people as they wait in the house. It’s all very relaxed and calm. There’s no fighting or arguing. There’s barely even a harsh word said. There is very little to really get worked up about. Even when something does happen to one of the people in the house, it’s hardly that terrible. As dystopian fiction goes, this lacks anything really apocalyptic. I guess that Alam wanted to create a bit of claustrophobia with this book and keep things very small. However, this isn’t how it comes across.

Mostly because he keeps referring to the outside world. If the reader had no clue what was going on in the city, I think there would be more tension and mystery here. Instead, we get glimpses of other people and, as it turns out, much more interesting stories. There are so many interesting things that are hinted at but we’re stuck in a fancy house with super boring characters. The book sells itself as a sort of reverse Get Out but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s not even a cliched dystopian. I’m not sure it really counts as dystopian. It’s really frustrating because it feels like we’re constantly on the verge of a really exciting story.

It’s not that I even mind that we don’t get any answers. I think it’s a bit of a cop-out but it’s not a problem. It is a tactic that could have been used much better than it was though. I like the idea of a mundane story set during the breakdown of society but that’s not what this is. It tries to be both mundane and dramatic, which means it isn’t really either. I just didn’t care what happened to these people. I didn’t care about the apocalyptic event. I just wanted it to end.

Also, and it’s a minor point, I don’t think Alam is very good at writing women. He’s not the worst offender out there but there are certainly elements of Amanda’s character that rubbed me the wrong way. Also, the way he describes her teenage daughter Rose just seems off. Although, I think he does capture that certain class of person who is focused on outside appearance. The chapter that is basically just a grocery list of expensive ingredients could have been part of great social commentary but it just didn’t go far enough. This is a book that was trying to do so much that everything just ends up being diluted. It also feels as though Alam wanted to write a dystopian novel without actually having to come up with any details of a dystopia.

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