Leave The World Behind (2020) – Rumaan Alam

Title:Leave The World Behind
Author:Rumaan Alam
Publisher/s:Jonathan Ball Publishers/Bloomsbury
Date published:2020
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Does the world need another apocalyptic novel? The answer is always yes. Yes, it does. In my humble opinion, the literary world can never have too many apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novels floating around. They’re a bit like science-fiction in that the possibilities really are endless, and even though science fiction nowadays seems a lot more literal, so too can be said of the apocalypse.

Leave the World Behind is a slice of a possibility. The beginning of what will very possibly be a pretty catastrophic time for all humankind. In the meantime, we must meet a family of four from New York who has booked an Airbnb on Long Island. Amanda and Clay, and their kids Rose and Archie, are for all intents and purposes quite a normal family. They are an average family speaking from the first world perspective, with cosmopolitan aspirations. They are not an especially distinctive family.

Clay writes book reviews for The New York Times, has a habit of secretly smoking cigarettes, and seems almost ashamed of his habit. He is also deeply annoyed that he is middle-class. Amanda is an account director and needs her colleagues to need her. Archie is 16 and masturbates almost as much as any normal teenage boy. Rose is 13, and still quite young for her age. Neither of them is little kids anymore, though Amanda’s references to her children make them seem a lot younger. They have only known technology to work and to be a necessity – like groceries and running water.

Their vacation home is a white-painted brick house with a pool, a jacuzzi at the cost of $340 a day. Described as “The Ultimate Escape”, it is secluded enough to make them feel as if they really are getting away from it all. Surrounded by woods and no visible neighbors, this New York family seemed to have found the perfect place to take time off from their lives.

After a day spent getting too much sun, and eating all the wrong foods, and basking in their own sense of accomplishing nothing but a relaxing time, the internet stops working. A brief news alert flashes on their phones, and then nothing. The electricity remains on, and the sun continues to shine. There is still water in the jacuzzi, and there is still food in the fridge, but for how long?

Drunk on their own rationalizations, and an eerie sense that something is just not right, Amanda and Clay prepare to leave and return to New York. The night before they plan to prematurely end their vacation, a knock on the door has the family hurtling into a reality they are not equipped for. The owners of the very house they are renting stand at their own back door begging to be let in. Something is happening they can’t adequately explain, and for some reason, they felt this house out in the middle of nowhere is where they will feel the safest.

G.H and Ruth are black. Amanda and Clay and their kids are white. G.H is in finance, and Ruth has decorated their home with all the right furniture. The rightful owners of this nice house are awkwardly sent to sleep in the spare room in the basement, and everything from now onwards will most likely be frightening and awkward, and everything else in between.

And so begins a terrifying few days that will force strangers to become family, children to grow bored and explore their very strange and alien surroundings, and for the adults to rethink their notions of class, race, and what family truly means to them. In what feels like a startling fever dream the characters experience mounting tension that builds and builds with no signs of slowing down. Herds of deer, flocks of flamingos, and loud flashes of sound seem to drop from the sky, and yet the most frightening thing of all is not what can be seen and felt and heard, but what is invisible and silent.

The readers of Rumaan Alam’s third novel will feel as though they too are sunburnt and intoxicated, and satiated from all the uncertainty that comes with the world possibly ending. And before the world ends, what will they do? What would you do? Alam’s prose is such that he soothes the reader with mundane descriptions of grocery shopping, sex, masturbation, and coveting your neighbor’s (or Airbnb host’s) possessions, and then hits you with an apocalypse. There isn’t time to do anything other than stock up on gas and hope that the WiFi starts working again… and fill that bathtub.

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