Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Leave the World Behind is the third novel by New York-based author Rumaan Alam, published by Bloomsbury. He is a contributing editor for The New Republic and co-host of two podcasts for Slate.
When Amanda and Clay rent a luxurious holiday home for them and their two children, all they expected was a relaxing vacation away from the hubbub of the city. The holiday has barely begun before an older couple knock on the door late in the evening. Unsure of who they are and what they want, the couple are immediately unnerved.
Eventually, they open the door and learn that the couple actually own the house they’ve rented. The couple insists that something has happened in the city, something bad that they needed to escape—possibly a severe power cut, possibly something so much worse.
Although Amanda and Clay are uncomfortable with the situation, they don’t feel they can turn the couple away from their own home. They all try to sleep, but the next morning the tv has stopped broadcasting and there’s no phone signal. The adults try to hide the tension from the children, but they all know something is very wrong.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam Review
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so torn over a novel. The last book I can remember that left me with such mixed feelings is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, a book that made me so mad I didn’t know whether I loved it or hated it.
Firstly, I am in awe of Rumaan Alam’s ability to create incredible tension in a very short period of time. The book transforms from a peaceful, idyllic vacation into a hotbed of bubbling tension in just a couple of pages. The tension between the two sets of adults is palpable and feels as real as another person in the room.
I also adored the descriptions of the location. The searing heat and the wildlife emerging from the wilderness make for an incredible setting. Although, there is one point where I found the descriptions overkill, and this was when describing what the family had bought from a local shop. This was like reading a ridiculously long shopping list that totally lost my attention.
The thing I found really distracting and repeatedly pulled me out of this world were the occasional sexualised moments. The one that I really disliked was at the end of the second chapter. Amanda watches her children jumping into the pool and registers the ‘sprouting brown twists at the pink nipple’ of her son. Then ‘Rose, curvy and jiggling, downy with baby hair, her polka-dot one-piece straining just so at the legs, pudendum in relief.’ I just thought it (mostly the second part) was really unnecessary.
I struggled with Leave the World Behind, but I also admired a lot about it too. I almost gave up after a handful of chapters as I didn’t like any of it until the second couple were introduced. However, the final half had me completely enthralled.
Even though I think it’s a masterclass in creating tension, I still don’t know if I would recommend it.
If you enjoyed Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam you’ll love Station Eleven by Emily St. John.