Book Review: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I’ll admit it, the bookstore window got me on this one.  I walked past the window on several occasions and this book looked very intriguing.  When I read the blurb, I decided to go for it. And I am not sorry!

Amanda and her family are on the way to their Airbnb in the wilds of Long Island.  She and Clay have the requisite two children, a boy and a girl, and Amanda worries about all the normal things a privileged white woman of our time worries about.  Is it sexist that Clay always drives, does she care? Do her kids fit in, are they going to be successful, is she successful, does she like her job as much as she is supposed to? The list goes on.  The opening of the novel is a little jarring.  In the style of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, the brand names are intentionally dizzying in frequency, which serves to ground the reader in Amanda’s material and materialistic world.  There is also a little head hopping, which while sometimes unsettling, contributes to the frantic tone and builds the humming anxiety that drives the characters.

Soon, things take a turn toward the dark side. First, the owners of the Airbnb show up asking to stay in the house with Amanda and Clay, because of a mysterious power outage in the city. From there, stuff just gets weirder.  What if all the things we count on in the modern world just stopped working? What if something happened, but there was no news about what it was or who had done it, or how long it would last? What if our phones no longer brought us alerts and information? 

I am not going to lie, the answers to these questions are not in the book;  that’s not the point. The point is to raise questions about society: how does it function and why? Are the things we spend our time on really important? What if things suddenly changed, would the same things be important or would we change our priorities? What does it mean to be a good person?

This book would be a great one to discuss in a book group, because it raises a lot of questions and answers none.  The answers will be in the discussions about the book, or rather, attempts at answers.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think Amanda is a likeable character?  Why or why not?
  2. Did you believe the Washingtons when they first showed up at the door?  What did you think of the situation at that point?
  3. What do you think happened?
  4. What do you think they should do?
  5. What would you do?

After reading this book, may I suggest a comforting Peach Pound Cake with your tea?

Published by Robin Henry

Independent Scholar and Book Coach specializing in Historical Fiction and Literary Fan Fiction.