Book Review Tuesday: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam #psychologicalliteraryfiction #suspense

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Thank you for joining me today for another Book Review Tuesday. Normally, when I finish a book, I write my review the same day, the next at the latest. It’s a habit I keep because I like the story and my impressions to be fresh in my head.

In the case of Leave the World Behind, it took me several days of ruminating to decide how I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that left me waffling so indecisively. This one haunted my subconscious and is still rattling around in my head.This is a novel that will keep book clubs talking, debating, and discussing. ____________________________________________________________________________

Leave the World Behind
by Rumaan Alam

Book cover shows in-ground swimming pool at night

I want to say I loved this book, and in many (most?) ways I did, but there were more than a few moments I found frustrating. It’s a hard book to recommend because readers are likely to either be enthralled by it or hate it. There’s not much room for middle ground with this one.

The plot enticed me—Clay and Amanda, a middle-income white couple with two children rent a rural luxury home on Long Island for vacation. Not long into their stay they lose power, internet, TV—but not before getting a few jumbled hints that something terrible has happened. Something big.

In the middle of the night, G.H. and Ruth, an older, wealthy black couple arrive claiming they are the owners of the home, and that there has been a massive blackout in New York City. How these two couples react to each other, their relationship changing as it becomes more and more apparent something more than a blackout has taken place, is the foundation of the story.

Although I found this book hard to put down, there were moments that amounted to fingernails on my reading blackboard. As an example, near the beginning we get at least two pages listing what Amanda bought at the grocery store. What writer gets away with that? What editor lets it slide past? Then there are the sometimes-crude passages focused on Clay or Amanda thinking about sex. I’m not prudish, but some was just…gross. Thankfully, those passages weren’t long, but I found it weird how the author veered in that direction multiple times.

Honestly, the whole book is weird. Strange. Odd. Curious. Bizarre, and atypical. And yet it’s compelling. Riveting. There is a commanding sense of urgency as well as a building atmosphere of claustrophobia throughout.

The story is told from an omniscient point-of-view, with insight into all the characters, even the two kids, Rose, a thirteen-year-old and Archie, a sixteen-year-old. Every now and then—as the reader is experiencing what a character is feeling at a particular moment—the author inserts something unrelated. A tragic happening to someone the reader doesn’t know, in another part of the country. These “glimpses” which only last a few sentences, are never fully fleshed out, but serve to heighten the need to know exactly what catastrophic event took place. The reader is as much in the dark (no pun intended) as Clay and Amanda, G.H. and Ruth.

Of particular note, there are a few moments that I considered sheer brilliance and which made the hair prickle on the back of my neck—when Rose spies thousands of deer that suddenly appear in the woods. When a huge flock of flamingos land on the in-ground pool (you have to read the book to understand why this is so eerie) and most of all, “the noise.”

Many reviewers felt this book was poorly written. I disagree. There are passages weighted down in telling (Amanda’s grocery list, anyone?), but the passages related to the noise (and there are many) were so vividly and expertly described, I felt as if that horrific happening had reached through my Kindle and echoed in my ears. Pages upon pages of goosebumps!

Finally, we come to the ending.

Or lack of one.

I know that infuriated many readers. I actually swiped back through my Kindle thinking I must have missed a few pages. Then all I could think was “huh?” But the more I dwelled on how the author chose to wrap things up, the more I was okay with it. I really hope this book is optioned for the big screen as I can see it making an excellent movie (although I’m sure many movie-goers would be frustrated by the ending).

So… is it a good book? Yes. Is it a bad book? Yes. Did I like it?

After debating for a few days, I can fully see myself reading Leave the World Behind again when I want something unusual. A curious, sometimes annoying, but fully engrossing story. I started this review with “I want to say I loved this book.” Quibbles and problems aside, I thoroughly loved it. Guaranteed, should you give it a go, you’re bound to have a strong opinion one way or the other.

5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Literary Fiction > Mystery, Thriller, Suspense Fiction


If anyone out there has read this, I’d love to know what you thought. The book has had a lot of buzz, with readers mostly split on their feelings. If you haven’t read it, what do you think? Something you’d pick up or not? Let’s chat in the comments!

70 thoughts on “Book Review Tuesday: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam #psychologicalliteraryfiction #suspense

  1. Pingback: Book Review Tuesday: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam #psychologicalliteraryfiction #suspense — From the Pen of Mae Clair – All About Writing and more

  2. I really like how honest you were about this book. You do have my attention, but I’m not a big fan of vague endings, most of the time. I’ve read a book or two where I wasn’t sure how I felt when I finished it. It is good something makes a reader think so much. I’m guilty of a shopping list once, but not two pages of it…lol. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this book, Mae!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The shopping list was unbelievable, Denise. Things like….she bought fat oranges, and a cluster of bananas. Sticky buns with gooey icing. She bought ground beef to make burgers and sesame buns. She bought…on and on!

      I just made that list up, but you get the idea. I was stunned, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It definitely lingers, Kim. If you do read this, I’ll be anxious to see your review. Readers are really split about it, and I can see why many didn’t care for it. Buts it’s haunting in a weird way, and I loved it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m usually not a fan of unfinished endings either, Joan. It really surprised me that I LIKED this book despite that. I’m glad you’re intrigued, but I also get that this book won’t appeal to everyone. Lots of readers didn’t care for it at all. As for me, I can thoroughly see myself reading it again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When you began the review, I was thinking I wouldn’t bother with a book you were on the fence about. By the end, I was thinking I had to read the book because I needed to see what was so weird about the whole thing. You definitely captured my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This one was so hard to review, Staci. I breezed through it in three days. Even when I was irritated by certain passages, I was sucked back in, and kept thinking about the book when I was doing other things. I’m definitely a fan, but there are also a lot of readers who weren’t impressed for various reasons (especially that open ending). If you give it a read, I’ll be curious about your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. While I’m not a fan of vague endings most of the time, you’ve absolutely intrigued me after this review. I’d love to find time to read this book and plan to keep it on my list. But that grocery list? Weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Teri, if you read it, I’ll be anxious to see your review. It’s definitely not for everyone, but–WOW!—it blew me away. And I don’t like open endings either.

      Also, it would also make an excellent book club pick, as I can see it generating a ton of discussion. As for the grocery list, I was dumbfounded!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds like an interesting read and, by your write up, I could see how it’s either a love or hate kind of book. Every once in a while, I run across a book that requires time to sit and marinate in my brain before I can write about it. Very insightful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tessa. I definitely had to ruminate over this one for several days, examining how I felt about it. I haven’t read a book that made me do mental cartwheels before writing my review in a very long time!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like your take on this. Sometimes, a book IS hard to judge since there’s so many moving parts (if you will). This doesn’t sound like something I’d care for, but I like your explanations of why and what worked (and didn’t work) for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sue. And I thoroughly get that this book wouldn’t appeal to a lot of readers. I like your comment about the many moving parts of a novel. We tend to forget that (even though we’re writers) when we sit down and consume books. Nice to see you here!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What an interesting review! You did a great job with this, Mae. I would totally agree with you on the grocery list and the insertions of “gross” sexual detail. But I think I would also agree with you on the creepy sound. It seems like the author made lots of choices (pov popping to other parts of the country) that most of us wouldn’t think to do or get away with. It does make me wonder. I’m not sure I’d enjoy this read, but you certainly piqued my curiosity. :=D

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diana, I was amazed by the things the author got away with in this book. The POV is addressed by a lot of reviewers who didn’t care for it, and yet—it worked. I will say that the author made me “feel” something with almost every single scene. Whether revulsion, frustration, annoyance, goosebumps, or worry, he worked each scene to trigger reactions in his readers.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my review even if the book isn’t something that appeals to you. I like that I piqued your curiosity. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jan. And yes, this book resonated on multiple levels. I know a lot of readers disliked it, but all those layers (flawed or perfect) when stitched together made a mesmerizing story. Thanks for checking out the review!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved your review, both why you liked it and what frustrated you about it. Not knowing what the “noise” was and what happened could hold my interest for most of the book, but not knowing at the end would annoy me. I’ll pass on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, the ending is a big “Huh?” I still remember how I felt when I reached the final sentences, and then flipped back in my Kindle, certain there had to be more. That lack of ending turned off a lot of readers and I get that. It took me a while to get done sulking and think about the book before I was okay with it.
      Definitely not for everyone, LOL.
      Glad you enjoyed my review. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your review certainly intrigues and makes me want to give it a peek. Yet I’m not sure I want to. Ambiguity! The book sounds like a literary novel, rather than one written to move and entertain, which is fine. That’s the kind we expanded our literature-loving souls on– The Trial, The Stranger, The Plague, The Glass Bead Game, Ulysses, Justine, Metamorphosis, The Magic Mountain, etc. . With constant complex thoughts about the world and reality already consuming so much energy, I’m not sure this one is right for me right now. It’s on my list, though, and thank you for the review.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Flossie. It is considered a literary novel, though I would also say it’s written to move and entertain. I like that it made me think and pause to evaluate the characters and their motives after I reached the end. The give and take of their relationship and the evolution of how that changed.

      I fully understand, given the current state of the world, why this book would not be something appealing at the moment. I’m glad you enjoyed the review and stopped by to comment. Many thanks!


  10. Being a real foodie, I wouldn’t be bothered that much by a grocery list. I sometimes get irritated when in a book someone is eating in a restaurant and they DON’T tell what they’re eating. LOL. But I have no tolerance for endings that leave me hanging. That’s my biggest irritation in a book. Especially if there’s no sequel. I’ll have to think about this one. The whole thing sounds intriguing, but I don’t know if I could get past the ending. Those kinds of endings make me want to throw something.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL! I hear you. And I think that was probably my first reaction (to throw something….like maybe a hissy fit) when I hit the non-ending. It definitely had to grow on me, much like the book did. And as much as I thought that grocery list was so overdone, there was still SOMETHING about it that sucked me in. The author definitely worked some magic with this one and made me love a book that by all reasoning I should have disliked.


  11. Your review of this book makes me ponder over the reasons we pick up a book…we all like a book that enthralls, that keeps us turning the pages and the twists make us fall off the edge – when you say that this book is “weird. Strange. Odd. Curious. Bizarre, and atypical…” it seems to cater to all kinds of readers and that is the success of an author!
    Recently I’ve read one such book – ‘Infinite’ by Brian Freeman – that I called weirdly wonderful just because it evoked all the feelings you’ve described in this review. I must say I was relieved when it finished. I couldn’t write a good review yet I posted a few lines but your review of a weird book is fabulous.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mae. A disappointing ending is good if it leaves the scope for a reader’s imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Balroop, I’m going to have to look up Infinite to see what that one is about.

      I think a lot of people probably loved Leave The World Behind right up until the ending. It was kind of like hanging in for the long haul only to have it go nowhere. I didn’t see it that way when I had time to consider the closing, but I know many readers did. Many also didn’t like the narrative style or the omniscient POV, but I’m a fan of omniscient from way back so that wasn’t an issue for me.

      I’ve always been a fan of the unusual and books that make me think rather than merely entertain, and this novel delivered that. I’m glad you enjoyed my review (it was a tough one to write). I would definitely read this author again.

      And I would read this book again, too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. When I read books like this one, I tend to keep track of the fleeting thoughts hoping the author did it to lead to some connection down the book. I read a novel when the author mentioned a certain thing and he inserted in a periphrasis that it wasn’t a hint to future events. I thought it was interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At least 50% of the people who read feel exactly the same as you, Sue.
      This was probably the hardest review I’ve ever written, but then again—this is probably the most unusual novel I’ve ever read, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sounds like you went through a roller coaster of emotions and opinions with this one, Mae. The grocery list thing might have been okay about 60 years ago, but in this age of info at the fingertips, in the words of this Canuck..”It jus’ don’t fly, anymo’!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sharlene. Thanks for dropping by to check out the review. This one definitely qualifies as odd, and I still count it as the best book I have read yet this year. If you do check it out, I hope you enjoy it!


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