The clever ironies and turns on the property metaphor are matched only by the twists in the plot to come. A book that begins as a novel of class and then comes to encompass race by the middle transforms again into a waking nightmare ... And the narrator, who has moved deftly from character to character, investing us fully in the lives of all six occupants of the Airbnb, expands our viewpoint outward, to the woods, to the city, to the planet. And the news is not good ... the perfect title for a book that opens with the promise of utopia and travels as far from that dream as our worst fears might take us. It is the rarest of books: a genuine thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age, and a work of high literary merit that deserves a place among the classics of dystopian literature.
... enthralling ... Leave the World Behind is a coy little thing: a disaster novel without the disaster ... In most literature of this ilk, the disaster, whether rising seas or a virus, is a force of narrative tension: the reader is keen to learn how humans move from a time of upheaval to one of stability. Alam never gets there; upheaval is all his characters have. His achievement is to see that his genre’s traditional arc, which relies on the idea of aftermath, no longer makes sense.
... a zingy dystopian exercise whose blooming absurdities (the less about which you know going in, the better) would seem frankly unbelievable if they didn’t ring so true ... Alam has both a golden ear and a gimlet eye for the Sturm und Drang of the city's ever-shifting social's strata; a way of slyly dinging its self-delusions and virtue-signalling without turning cruel or petty ... Unsurprisingly, the book's rights have already been snapped up by Netflix...The plan is to present it as a feature film, though the full length of a limited series might better serve the busy tangle of ideas on race and class and consumerism and 21st-century malaise contained within Alam's wild World; until then, his bright, audacious words will have to do.
Alam’s two previous novels have proved he’s gifted with an acidic wit, one he uses to break down contemporary life at the cellular level. His wry observations about the structured chaos of vacation life might go on indefinitely — but then comes a knock at the door ... All those functions that never seem to exist in fiction are on artful display here, an intimacy that is also a challenge. Why are you cringing? Why are you looking away? ... Alam doesn’t dwell in the specificity of apocalypse, which has been the obsession of writers since the Flood. Instead he lobs a prescient accusation: Faced with the end of the world, you wouldn’t do a damn thing ... Comfort comes from the where-were-you-when stories that will someday be all that’s left of our current crisis. That Alam anticipates this psychological reflex, that he articulates it with depth and self-flagellation, and that he has been proved so right by the world we’re living in now, is what makes his narrative both beautiful and unbearable. Stop cringing. Stop looking away ... For all this, Alam’s early tragicomedy-of-manners approach to race falters. The arrival of the Black, genteel older couple creates, as the narrative bruisingly points out, an opportunity to play Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Their interiority never arrives ... Self-consciously, Alam sticks with whom he seems most comfortable: the NPR-listening, Carroll Gardens-dwelling, New York Times-reading every-person ... Still, if the first half can turn a mirror on you, the second half will shatter it. Leave the World Behind teeters on that seesaw-edge question in horror fiction: to reveal the monster or not? Ultimately it totters too far to one side, but there is still the primal nail-biting need to know what-the-hell-is-going-on. This propulsion, which drives much of the characters’ decisions, likewise drives the reader onward to a breathless conclusion that, if not altogether satisfying, is undeniably haunting.
Alam is a master when it comes to building characters both familiar and alien ... By creating people who are firmly established (if not wholly likable), Alam thoroughly terrifies us as they face what could be the end of it all in Leave the World Behind ... Like Stephen King’s 1980 novella The Mist, Leave the World Behind expertly illustrates the horror of the unknown, the almost painful humanity we feel when facing down the end and, of course, human nature under duress. During an era of plague, racism, hatred, and division, this tale of a vacation gone awry is terrifyingly prescient.
... the latest entry in that strangely popular form of middle-brow escapism, the apocalypse novel ... In essence this is good schlock horror—think Stephen King’s The Mist with much better writing ... it nibbles at Zeitgeist subjects like race relations and conspicuous consumption ... This makes the novel vividly relatable to the NPR listeners who are most likely to read it. It’s a shrewd move, to caution against late-capitalist decadence while partaking in it.
... fast-paced and haunting ... [Alam] has given us a tightly contained narrative within the much broader scope of a frightening crisis ... Alam makes clever and subtle reminders of their privileged obliviousness ... Alam’s prose is polished, melodic, and precise. This precision allows for the narrative perspective to wander with effortless shifts between characters. It is the trick of a skilled storyteller. Alam hones the focus too, pulling back from the close perspective to offer hints of the broader chaos beyond, yet still unknown to the characters. It has a powerful effect. The reader gains small hints of the looming catastrophe, but the point of view snaps back quickly to the characters, maintaining the suspense ... The shifts in perspective also aids in pacing. The story is never bogged down with irritating character proclivities ... Alam guides the pace of the story with expert timing. Each new happening raises the tension. It’s unsettling ... Turning the page is addictive. Alam’s narrative compels the reader forward with unexpected horrors, both terrifying and curious. The narrative, however, never dwells too long in any one place, denying us information and adding to the mystery ... an engrossing and haunting novel where the fantasy of unplugging becomes a nightmare. Leave The World Behind is a stunning literary thriller closely examining the most basic of human relationships.
... showcases a darker side to [Alam's] writing ... Impending doom hangs over Alam’s prose like power lines—their humming ever-present even during the book’s brighter, more contented chapters ... Alam paints a compelling picture of a world where all the old ways of being seem to be coming undone, and asks us to watch six people try to come to terms with it. While not quite apocalyptic in its subject matter, it is a book about upheaval on a personal and grand scale. For those of us who are dreading the future, Leave The World Behind can be hard to swallow at times—but the prose is so good it makes the bitterness go down smooth.
Alam’s descriptions and details immerse you in his world; his character descriptions are almost repulsive in their beauty ... Alam’s narrative shifts easily between the gorgeous and the repellant; in his writing is embodied both beauty and the horror of our daily existence. It’s an incredible gift, and one he uses to great effect throughout this novel ... It’s hard to categorize Leave the World Behind in any meaningful way. Is it literary fiction? Yes. Is it a thriller? Sure. Is it science fiction? Not quite, but it could be ... It may seem like reading a book about the moment the world changes might be unsettling right now. Instead, bearing witness to the range of emotions, the panic, the uncertainty and fear and doubt on a small scale, within this household, provides some comfort. There are no easy answers, but in the midst of uncertainty, we have each other to rely on. And maybe that will get us through.
Throughout the novel, Alam floats freely among the perspectives of his characters, but this is the first point at which the technique really sizzles. He drifts back and forth between Amanda, suspicious but embarrassed of her suspicion, and the couple, G.H. and Ruth Washington, who are very carefully playing their roles in order to gain entrance ... Alam offers flashes of direct evidence that there is a greater danger hovering over them, most unnoticed by the adults ... the novel is a testament to the human urge to go on as before, hoping that your tiny spot on the map, at least, has been spared.
Alam’s brilliance is less in what he reveals and more in what he doesn’t. Fear of the unknown ratchets up the reader’s anxiety, and yet Leave the World Behind unfolds slowly for a thriller ... Leave the World Behind is certainly timely in the era of COVID-19, but it’s also relevant for anyone who has questioned our society’s dependence on technology, or who has unwavering faith in the social contract. The characters second-guess their beliefs about safety and security. Readers who are safe at home—maybe?—can’t help but do the same.
Leave the World Behind is atmospheric and prescient: Its rhythms of comedy alternating with shock and despair mimic so much of the rhythms of life right now. That's more than enough to make it a signature novel for this blasted year.
In a time of global pandemic, racial justice uprising, and widespread economic hardship, Rumaan Alam’s third novel may be the best thing you can read about one of the worst things you can imagine. A perfectly-engineered thrill ride that is also a novel of ideas, Leave the World Behind combines deft prose, a pitiless view of consumer culture and a few truly shocking moments ... It is a tribute to Alam’s skill that the existential horror of such questions doesn’t just intensify his characters’ white-knuckle situation, but truly deepens the novel as a whole, making profoundly resonant truths that are both difficult and clear-eyed. Leave the World Behind is an exceptional read that will stay with you long after you’ve sped through its final pages.
This is an odd duck of a book, no question about it. It's for the enjoyment of a very select audience, one who delights in the sheer giddy pleasure of the imaginative way words follow each other on the page ... This book has been marketed as suspenseful and an examination of race. It's not all that suspenseful in the usual sense of the word when discussing genre, and there is nothing provocative in it about race, either ... Nevertheless, it's worth a read for the supremely skilled writing even though the plot goes missing in action early on.
... one of the saddest and most gripping books you will ever read ... Every character is flawed, fragile and believable ... As his characters veer from seizures of panic to intimations of loss, it becomes impossible to put the book down, to look away. This novel describes with documentary precision the profound irrationality of the way we live—the wretched excess, the obsession with status and wealth, the refusal to face the increasing likelihood of catastrophe in the face of fires and floods, pandemics and weaponized dictators ... What might have been a suspenseful and socially realistic piece of dystopian fiction has become something far more resonant, a vision of an entirely plausible future ... Sometimes it takes a gifted storyteller to make us see what our imaginations cannot grasp. Leave the World Behind tells us, with a heart-stopping insistence, that the time to fix what’s broken is now.
The premise holds delicious satirical potential ... about halfway through the tale, disastrous and inexplicable events turn Leave the World Behind into a claustrophobic drama-comedy about capable people turning inward from fear, stuck in tight loops of useless conjecture and indecision, regressing into near-feral primitiveness ... It’s quite a ride, but the bubble setting in which bad goes to worse also becomes a trap that Alam fails to infuse with congruent ideas ... it’s easy to get the sense Leave the World Behind is going to be powered by frenetic, almost smug observations of the flotsam of middle-class family life ... Nothing would have been sacrificed in Alam’s group portrait of panicky cluelessness by adding a little dimension to the principals. There are many times Alam doesn’t really tell a story so much as review the one in his head ... there are times when a reader’s encounter with a character is less like revelation than scanning Alam’s mental notes on that person ... Yet there are a number of moments of startling grace.
Terrifying in its understatement, the novel is about the end of the world and what we might do when we get there. Reading this during a global pandemic is one of the most chilling literary experiences of 2020 ... Alam doles out details of the catastrophe in simple but unsettling asides. There are no big, showy scenes of horror, but you’ll remember this book the next time you ride the subway or get into an elevator. The anxiety builds to a point where you’re afraid to turn the page and yet you can’t stop yourself. Leave the World Behind is scary and propulsive, but it’s also a pointed warning. Whether we’ll hear it in time is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, pass the wine.
Leave the World Behind is pitch-perfect in atmosphere, easy to read and deceptive in the high polish of its setting. Alam has crafted a deeply bewitching and disquieting masterpiece ... [a] captivating, thought-provoking novel.
Alam...brilliantly captures the shift in dynamics between the two families, from apprehension about each other to a collective front against an external entity. The narrative’s increasing tempo expertly dives into subtle yet incisive intersections between class and race ... Alam’s novel lobs a series of unsettling questions: How will we react to the next nebulous horror? How will we parent? What will we define as home?
...Alam’s spectacular and ominous latest...a family’s idyllic summer retreat coincides with global catastrophe ... This illuminating social novel offers piercing commentary on race, class and the luxurious mirage of safety, adding up to an all-too-plausible apocalyptic vision.
Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation ... Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time ... Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.