03 Jan Leaving the World Behind with Rumaan Alam: A Review
As you have guessed, I have done some epic reading during this pandemic. What with the mixture of ‘missing’ social interaction and the publication of some epic books, can you really blame me? However, up front: Leave the World Behind isn’t great for pandemic anxiety, so please take that into consideration.
About the Book:
A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong
Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.
Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?
Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.
‘Well, the sun was shining. They felt that boded well – people turn any old thing into an omen. It was all just to say no clouds were to be seen. The sun where the sun always was. The sun persistent and indifferent.’ (page 1)
Leave the World Behind begins with Amanda and Clay heading off with their two children on a holiday outside New York. They are a middle-class family and this is immediately highlighted with Alam’s subtle writing — if I don’t tell you a hundred times how well Alam writes character traits with such ease and beauty, then please note that I am telling you now! Immediately we are shown-not-told that this family isn’t rich but, on this particular holiday, they indulge in some very expensive groceries — almost overbuying. It seems a silly detail to pick up on but, isn’t this what most of us do when on holiday, we shop ‘exotically’, go where we normally wouldn’t, and splurge on items which before we’d avoid? After arriving at their air BnB holiday home, they get really comfortable, as anyone would when on holiday — we’re talking late night hot tub dips (parents only) and wine on tap (again, parents only). The next day is no different: they beach, they drink, they lounge — until it’s revealed to us that Amanda’s cellphone can no longer connect to a signal.
It’s late one night when two people show up at the door — the Washingtons, the house’s actual owners — and, after telling Clay and Amanda something crazy’s going on in New York City, they add that they’ve got nowhere else to go. From this point, Alam kick off this commentary on race, socio-economic status, comfortability in someone else’s home and who, ultimately, ‘holds rank’. An African-American family, the Washingtons seemingly have ‘more’ than Clay and Amanda and effectively ‘outrank’ them — according to Clay and Amanda — but not for reasons of race.
This novel is far more complex than it has been given credit for, not only is the style of writing compelling and astonishing, but the very idea of being ‘trapped’ with strangers you don’t know adds a level of intense fear and unease — and Alam’s execution of this story is, in my opinion, masterful. This book is both an easy and difficult read and, besides leaving you questioning your own prejudices, it may even scare you out of your pants.
4 out of 5 stars
* * * *