Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam – Book review

Leave the World Behind has been on my TBR list for a little while, so I was looking forward to reading it. As I sometimes do, I dived right in without reading the blurb – I like the surprise element. BUT I decided early on in this pandemic to steer clear of dystopian stories. I didn’t feel I needed any fictional accounts of a world in turmoil.

So yes, imagine my dawning uncomfort when I realised the direction Leave the World Behind was taking me in…

Opening sentence: Well, the sun was shining.

How do you like your dystopia?

Clay and Amanda, with their teenage children Rose and Archie, take a vacation from their New York home to the surrounding wilderness. Near the coast but in the forest – their holiday rental is remote but luxurious. With a pool and hot tub and amazing views of the trees, it all seemed idyllic.

Their holiday is going well until a knock on the door one night. It’s George and Ruth Washington – the owners of the house. Due to a blackout and chaos in NYC, they’re asking to stay in the house too. Clay and Amanda don’t like this, but what can they do?

The story then weaves threads of tension and unease expertly through the two couples assessing each other and attempting to build trust in this strange situation they find themselves in. In the background something far bigger and more sinister is also rumbling away, something no one will be able to ignore or avoid.

‘You’ll believe it when you can see it on your phone.’ Ruth didn’t even blame her for this. All these years debating the objectivity of fact had done something to everyone’s brains.

I enjoyed the way the relationships between the characters played out, there were great details and nuanced points.

I did genuinely feel a sense of creepiness, fear and unease when I turned the last page. The last page though, left us on an ambiguous note; a snapshot, rather than complete story. Something I quite liked and certainly added to the abrupt unease at the heart of the tale.

While for me Leave the World Behind didn’t quite live up to its hype or cover quotes, it did have me engrossed and caused a visceral reaction, which is always the sign of a well-written read. It also had Station Eleven vibes with its themes of humanity and survival, which is never going to be a bad thing. It is also possibly the time and place element – it being an accidental dystopian read for me. Maybe I’ll try it again post-pandemic and see if my opinion alters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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