Thursday, August 08, 2019

Fiction Review: The Book of M

When The Book of M by Peng Shepherd was first released last summer, and I heard the post-apocalyptic story being compared to Station Eleven and The Passage (two of my favorites), I was eager to read it. By the end of the year, it had appeared on several Best of 2018 lists and accrued other recognition. This summer, I finally had time to listen to this unique novel on audio, as part of my Big Book Summer Challenge. It lived up to my expectations and kept me captivated.

The novel begins a couple of years after a very odd apocalypse and follows several different characters, also flashing back to the beginnings of the tragedy, when a man in India lost his shadow one bright, sunny day. Soon, he began to lose his memory, as the world looked on, and his condition quickly spread to others. In a short time, this strange phenomena spread all over the world, with millions of people losing their shadows and then, gradually, their memories. Ory and his wife, Max, have survived so far, in a remote hotel in a wooded area near Washington, DC. They had been attending a wedding when the disaster hit their area, so the wedding party and guests and hotel staff holed up in the facility, until one by one, they each succumbed and wandered away (or worse). Ory and Max are the only ones of their friends left at the hotel, but Max lost her shadow recently, so the two of them are watching and waiting for her to start losing memories. Worried that she might become dangerous to Ory, Max leaves, but Ory sets off in search of her. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a young woman named Naz who came to the US to train for the Olympic archery team, is terrified and alone as the disaster unfolds around her. Eventually, they each find others and all parties make their way to New Orleans, where strange rumors provide hope.

The novel mostly goes back and forth between narration from Ory and from Naz, with some other narrators, like Max, popping up at certain points. In this way, readers get to see the worldwide tragedy unfold from different perspectives and see its personal costs up close, even from the shadowless, as they struggle to maintain their memories and humanity. Slowly and gradually, the story becomes one of a quest, as the different parties all head to New Orleans in very different ways, while the reader also gets the perspective of the main character there who is the source of the strange rumors. It's intriguing right from the very first page, and the suspense builds, with plenty of action to keep the reader interested. As in any post-apocalyptic story, there is a lot of conflict and violence (fiction writers paint a pretty bleak picture of humankind after a tragedy!). The underlying concept is wholly unique and thought-provoking, though: losing memory as a result of losing shadows. The reasons behind the catastrophe are never found, but it provides plenty of fodder for a fascinating post-apocalyptic tale. Some very strange results of this phenomena occasionally veer into the fantastical. I was riveted by the audio production, which uses a male and female narrator, from beginning to end. This original novel provides plenty of depth and character interplay in the context of a compelling story, with growing tension that kept me rapt.

496 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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Listen to a sample of the excellent audio book, in an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, from Ory's perspective.

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  1. Not sure this one is for me, but I am glad you liked it so much.

    1. I did, Helen! I love a good post-apocalyptic novel, especially one with a bit of hope that's not all doom and gloom.

  2. I've also been interested in this one on the basis of the comparison to Station Eleven. I'd love more books like that! I'm glad to hear that this one lived up to your expectations :)

    1. Yes, the similarity is that it is post-apocalyptic but not solely about survival - also a very thoughtful story about what it means to be human.

  3. Replies
    1. Good thing there are so many books for so many tastes!