Review: Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam
This is going to be an unpopular opinion, since all of the reviews and discussions I've seen of this book online are absolutely glowing - but I did not like this book. At all.
Maybe it's that I'm not in the right sort of mood for end of the world books (those are hitting too uncomfortably close to home, right now), but quite a few of the things about this novel were rubbing me the wrong way despite the fact that this is such a short book (it clocks in at 241 pages).
The first thing that bothered me was the dialogue. I think Rumaan Alam was trying very hard to mimic realistic dialogue, but it was so choppy and repetitive that it actually just felt like reading a bad screenplay; I never got to sink into the ebb and flow of conversations because the sentences being exchanged. All looked. Like this. There was a lot of repetition. Repetition. Because - interruption for another line of dialogue - repeat what was said two lines before - more wilful misunderstandings - etc. On and on and on throughout the entirety of the novel.
Secondly - I think Alam was trying to do too much, and stretched his motifs and his narrative a bit thin. In practice, this meant that he was dropping in social commentary in places that didn't make much sense for the plot, since he had to cram it in; or he'd start a thread and then not have enough space to come back to it, leaving it to hang there unfinished by the climax. Maybe this was a distinct authorial choice, but I don't like books that end with unfinished threads - ambiguity is fine, but not if it tips into feeling unresolved, which was the case here. Maybe the fact that I like my stories to wrap up, even if they don't wrap up neatly or tidily, makes me an unsophisticated reader, but hey - reading is my escape, and real life is messy and complicated and unresolved enough without that also percolating in my fiction, thanks.
Thirdly - it really, really bothered me that we never learn what the cause of the end of the world is. I know that this was the premise of the novel, that the mystery of what exactly is happening hangs over everything and makes it that much worse for our protagonists, but for me it just didn't work. It didn't add the layer of creepiness, it just made me really irritated and annoyed that it wasn't explained properly, and it drove me bloody mad that even at the end of the book we never learn what the apocalypse is. It almost gave me the feeling that Alam couldn't think of a plausible end of the world scenario, so he just chose to leave it out. I'm sure that's not actually the case, but I'm discovering that I can't really buy into any fantasy stories that don't have a fully developed world to explain to the reader throughout the novel, so I think I will be avoiding books with this type of premise in the future.
And finally - the characters. My God. Absolutely none of them felt fully realized, they felt like stock characters that were being paraded through the bad screenplay that was the plot of this novel. Amanda is the Well-Intentioned Mother; Clay is the Slightly Clueless Father Who Attempts to Reckon With His Own Masculinity; G.H. and Ruth are the Successful Black Couple Here To Challenge White Preconceptions. I couldn't buy into any of their stories, probably because the dialogue (as discussed above) was so bad and choppy, but also because we never really got any depth to these characters' viewpoints or personalities, but just repeated inner monologues and comments on the plot that didn't develop any further than the first introduction we got.
Anyway. I know I'm in the minority of disliking this book - a vanishingly tiny minority if the Instagram comments are to be believed - so please do let me know if you disagree with me. Maybe it is just that I'm not in the mood for disaster novels and need to revisit this later, but I really didn't find the sophistication here that so many people have been raving about.
I look forward to a rousing discussion!