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The Book of M: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 5, 2018
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“Sheperd’s debut is graceful and riveting, slowly peeling back layers of an intricately constructed and unsettling alternate future.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Eerie, dark, and compelling, this will not disappoint lovers of The Passage (2010) and Station Eleven (2014).” (Booklist)
“Brilliant debut... The Book of M is right up there with Station Eleven: achingly beautiful literary novels about a changed world.” (Refinery29.com)
“This is an apocalyptic thriller with heart... The Book of M is devastating and inventive as Shepherd examines the value of memory, packing in imaginative twists as she goes.” (USA Today)
“It is an incredible concept, and she is a brilliant, brilliant new fiction writer. This is someone who you’re eventually going to have on this couch—she’s that good.” (Brad Thor, The Today Show)
“A beautiful and haunting story about the power of memory and the necessity of human connection, this book is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece and the one dystopian novel you really need to read this year.” (Bustle)
“The Book of M is exciting, imaginative, unique, and beautiful. Shepherd proves herself not just a writer to watch, but a writer to treasure.” (Darin Strauss, bestselling author of Half a Life )
“Prepare to fall in love with your own shadow. And to lose sleep. Shepherd is urgently good, and has written one of those books that makes you look up at two in the morning, to a world that’s new, newly scary, and freshly appreciated: what all the great stories do.” (David Lipsky, New York Times bestselling author of Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself and Absolutely American)
“A beautifully written existential apocalypse, following everyday people on a search for love, memory and meaning across the richly realized and frighteningly familiar ruins of America.” (Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas)
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This is where I stopped reading The Book of M (about 20% in). Full disclosure – I like post-apocalyptic fiction in the vein of the The Road, The Dog Stars and Station Eleven, so this is not a question of content. I even like the central premise of the book whereby people lose their shadows as a first sign they begin to lose their minds (aka ‘Forgetting’. Where this book really falls down is in two key areas: 1.) Logical consistency in the world the writer creates and 2.) the quality of the writing itself. I am perplexed as to how this book has received so many positive reviews.
Expanding on my initial paragraph, in a world where people are losing their shadows and their minds and society breaks down, you would not see police lights 4-5 months later (where are the police cars getting fuel if there isn’t electricity or running water?). Yet most unbelievable is that an airline would fly to a city ‘empty of people’. Airlines would not be flying at all as all impacted countries would be quarantined until a cause for the ‘outbreak’ was determined, to say nothing of all of the human being afflicted by the Forgetting that operate said airports and airplanes.
Other logical inconsistencies:
1.) An Iranian student in Boston seems to know less about the shadowless crisis in Boston than her family does living in Iran. The student, Naz, hears people ‘screaming in the night’ on the first night of the outbreak, but spends her time debating whether to call her boyfriend because ‘what did two and a half months [of dating] mean, really?’ (Later we find she has a key to his studio). In the meantime, Boston is quarantined and the airport closed without her seeming knowledge - but her family in Iran knows.
2.) Naz’s sister leaves her university (and research and studies) in Iran so she can go home to her mother’s house to talk with Naz on the phone as the crisis unfolds in Boston (why not just call your sister from the university?)
3.) The building Naz is holed up in does not seem to have one television, conveniently forcing Naz to remain on the phone with her mother and sister to get news (instead of using her phone to get news…?). In Iran, Naz’s sister is trying to pinpoint Naz’s location by asking her questions like the street she is on, what the building looks like, etc. (Why not just ask the address and plop it into Google?). Keep in mind - Iran has not been impacted by the 'epidemic'
4.) Within a half hour of most everyone in Boston becoming shadowless, the National Guard ‘encircled the metropolis and blocked all exits in and out’. Impossible given the sheer size of Boston, to say nothing of the chaos likely ensuing as nearly all citizens – including those in the National Guard – grapple at the same time with their impending ‘Forgetting’.
5.) Within a half hour, conveniently a Bostonian has already lost his mind (even though countless other examples earlier in the book show a gradual ‘Forgetting’ taking days but more typically weeks) so that said National Guard can kill him on live TV.
6.) For another party holed up at a report in Virginia, the next day after the outbreak in Boston begins, the staff at the resort gladly arm their guests so they can walk down the hillside to a grocery store (why not drive, why do they need to be armed?). When they arrive at the town where the grocery is located, the scene is described as chaos (but with unarmed families present). Yet the grocery is still well stocked enough that their group of five can purchase a month’s worth of food.
7.) This group of people watch Boston unfold on TV which is described by them as follows: "I braced for the eerie, deserted silence of Boston...' yet Naz describes Boston as loud and out of control.
It goes on and on and on like this. And I have not even broached the subject of bad writing in this book. Don’t waste your time – stop reading this review, go buy and read Station Eleven instead. Or The Dog Stars. Or The Road.
The Book of M is hard to put down. Peng Shepard's writing and storytelling style is captivating and encompassing. Some of the chapters are very short, and I kept finding myself saying "I'll read one more and then I'll go to sleep," again and again until I was deep into the night. The dedication of the characters in the story stem from Shepard's dedication to tell a story worth reading.
The novel is peppered with magical realism that would make Haruki Murakami proud, fantasy that Neil Gaiman would enjoy, and on a solid foundation of storytelling that Peng Shepard proudly owns herself.
But - the rules for engaging the world change. There is no consistency in how magic works. There is also no satisfying final explanation of all the mysterious happenings. There is also no satisfying conclusion for the most empathized-with characters. All the threads are suddenly severed with a catch-all surprise twist that feels inconsistent with the implied/foreshadowed promises about the kind of world the characters live in and the hoped-for reconciliation most of the book led up to.
So, I loved some scenes. But days after finishing, I don’t know what the book was about. I have no meaningful takeaway. I have no satisfaction of the characters’ stories being thoroughly extracted.
It’s as though the writer gets bored, or writes her way into a corner, so the story just ends.
Still, many redemptive qualities and quite entertaining and fun. Better than most of what’s out there. But if I forgot I already read it, I’d hope my forgetful self would skip it for something else.
The premise to this book is very interesting and I was very much drawn to it, but for me it boils down to poor execution. Please note, I WANTED to like this book. Post apocalyptic stories are some of my favorites. But this one always rubbed me wrong and never got off the ground for me. I don’t even care how it ends at this point, I can’t force myself to read any more.
Top international reviews
The characters are generally a well written bunch, though like so many novels these days it does feel a bit like the author had a diversity checklist they were following to make sure nobody could claim they weren't represented.
The story is not quite like anything else I can think of, though perhaps some of Brian Aldiss' novels are a relevant reference point. The internal logic of the events that drive the novel is sometimes unclear, it doesn't necessarily feel like the rules are consistent. That does mean that things aren't overly predictable, either, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Well worth a read despite a few quibbles, and recommended for those that are looking for something a bit different.
It is a book with 4 storylines/protagonists . Ory, Max, Naz and The Amnesiac.
People around the world have lost their shadows and along with them their memories of their lives and what makes them, them.
Ory and Max are married and the story really starts with them. When Ory goes out for a supply run, Max disappears.
I found that I wasn’t a big fan of Ory as a character/person as he seemed more concerned with himself and how he felt about his wife disappearing than with how his wife must be feeling at losing her shadow.
Don’t get me wrong the characters were all well written Ory included but he was also annoying.
I don’t want to write much more as I don’t want to spoil anything.
Read this book, it is a very powerful story and will stay with you for a while.
Apocalyptic, urban fantasy if you will.
Good characters and good build to the story.
A compelling read that I have already recommended to several friends.
This is the story of Max and Ory, a couple where one loses her shadow and the other keeps his. We watch Max as her memories fade away until all she remembers is her love for Ory, told in the first person so we feel the full horror of experiencing the slow and unstoppable loss of self. Though there is plenty of action in the story, this book is really a deep exploration of what makes us who we are, and what is left when we can no longer remember who we were.
The reality the author brings to this process is stunning. The writing is amazingly good, each word seemingly precisely chosen for the greatest impact. It is unbelievable that this is the author's first novel, the writing is so assured and compelling. This is definitely a book I will remember for a long time.
Very highly recommended!
More disturbingly, they start losing their memories. They become a form of zombies that roam the world without purpose or understanding, often acting violent. More disturbingly is that the shadowless obtain magical powers - in their efforts to remember who they are, their world, their fragments of memory become real - a twisted Dali-esque landscape of misshapened houses, grotesque creatures, inexplicable weather patterns...
The story focuses on a few central characters, namely Orlando Zhang and his wife Max who are attending a friend's wedding at a mountain resort in Virginia when they hear news of the "plague" has reached the US. They opt to stay put and 2 years later civilization no longer exists. Then one day Max loses her shadow. Fearful of what might happen if she mis-remembers Orlando, she leaves without telling him, which sends Orlando on a search for his wife.
And so begins their separate journeys, and the people, shadowless and shadowed, they meet along their way. Unknownst to each other, they are both drawn south, to New Orleans where rumors of a man that exists, who goes by different names, "The One with a Middle but No Beginning", "The One with No Eyes", "The Stillmind" - A Saviour? or something else?
Its a mesmermizing tale, a surreal, post-appocolpytic horror story that touches deeply on what it means to human, and surprisingly, ends on an optimistic note.
One of the best books I've read in a long time.