Book Review: Leave the World Behind

Overall Rating: 4/5

I stand firmly in the camp that film or TV adaptations of books rarely do them justice, but the chance of seeing what existed solely on paper and in my mind being translated to a screen far too tantalizing for me to turn away. Needless to say, when I saw the casting for Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind (Julia Roberts AND Denzel Washington?!?!), my interest was officially piqued and the novel soared to the top of my TBR list. The book follows a family that escapes to an isolated home for a much-needed getaway, only for their vacation to be interrupted by unexpected visitors who bring with them alarming news from the city. I won’t get too into the plot because peeling back the layers to this story is truly an experience that I would hate to steal from you, but suffice it to say that I was hooked.

Leave the World Behind is disconcerting to say the least, but behind the unconventional prose lies a nuanced commentary on the characterization and transcendence of human relationships. The writing is unpredictable – from sudden switches in perspective to abstract metaphors and streams of consciousness, I was gripped with a sense of urgency from the first page, which only heightened as I attempted to make sense of the convoluted events in this story. While it was a bit jarring at first, I appreciated Alam’s writing choices for their impact, which ultimately conjure a sense of deep isolation, a tone that is critical to conveying the thematic message. From real world references to acute commentary on race and class, the book is action-packed and poignant in its analysis of modern perspectives. Alam’s mastery of control over the cadence of tension combined with the intriguing storylines made it so difficult to put this book down.

On the other hand, Leave the World Behind is also very…bizarre. While I recognize the intent behind most plot decisions, there were certainly a few that I could have done without (the flamingoes, anyone?). While confounding the reader may have been purposeful and effective to a certain extent, there was certainly room to sharpen the focus of the story, particularly towards the end. And speaking of the ending…I’m honestly still not sure how I feel about it. Open endings can be controversial and while I don’t need all of the answers, this one was a little too open-ended for my liking. I’m actually very curious to see if the Netflix adaptation takes it in a different direction because I cannot currently visualize it playing out the exact same way as it does in the book.

Leave the World Behind is thought-provoking, intelligent, and hard to put down. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading science fiction, psychological thrillers, or even horror, but if you are uncomfortable with not knowing all the answers, it may not be for you. Ideologically, it is a fascinating fictional perspective on the symbiotic relationships we unwittingly engage in – but be warned, it isn’t always pretty.

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