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!