- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (18 June 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0008225605
- ISBN-13: 978-0008225605
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.1 x 22.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 680 g
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Book of M Hardcover – 18 Jun 2018
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‘Ambitious road-trip epic… a moving treatise on love and loss, with the bonus of a stunning denouement’
‘Peng Shepherd’s debut novel is the real deal…a meditation on memories and personhood’
‘Graceful and riveting’
‘I was both disturbed and inspired by Max’s and Ory’s journey through apocalypses large and small. Peng Shepherd has written a prescient, dark fable for the now and for the soon-to-be. THE BOOK OF M is our beautiful nightmare shadow’
Paul Tremblay, author of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS and THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD
‘A voice that's as emotionally compelling as GONE GIRL, a novel that's as thrilling as THE STAND. Prepare to fall in love with your own shadow. And to lose sleep’
David Lipsky, New York Times best-selling author of ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF and ABSOLUTELY AMERICAN
‘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
About the Author
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It starts with ‘Zero Shadow Day’ in India, where at a certain point during the year, the sun in certain cities around India is at the perfect angle so that it is directly shining down, and no one has a shadow. It’s just that when the sun moves and shadows return, one young man’s shadow doesn’t return, and what is at first a side show spectacle, soon becomes a dystopian nightmare, as very quickly he starts to forget things, and then more and more cases of ‘shadowless’ people appear around the world, and as they lose their shadows, they forget things, even to the point that they need to eat, or maybe breathe.
The world soon starts to fall apart as everyone begins to panic, as there seems to be no one to control it, to stop it, and no one has any idea of what it all means.
As more and more shadowless gather, and they forget everything, they become savage in their fear. Some want to take others shadows, some want food, some have just gone crazy. Very quickly it breaks into those with Shadows vs those without. Except that those with sometimes look after those without.
And this is where we see the story from two very different perspectives.
Max loses her shadow, and, not wanting to inflict herself on Ory as things degrade, she runs away from him. She meets a group of others, some with, and some without shadows, all heading towards a destination that might be able to help. Max is a bit different to other shadowless, she has held out longer, and, she records herself constantly on a small recorder Ory gave her, detailing her memories and her trip. Here we meet other characters, Ursula, and her crew in an RV that have decided to go to what the rumours are all saying is salvation in New Orleans. It is during this epic trip that they all lose their shadows, and we get to see the story of the shadowless, their suffering, the toll it takes, how it impacts each of them. Shepherd does such an incredible job of writing the slow demise of these people, how as their shadows have faded, so do their memories, and with it, to some extent so does their hope. However, with Max as a guide, Ursula as their driver, and others in the group to keep pushing them, they continue on. It is beautifully written (although I must admit, there are a few times when it seems to get a little lost, I am not sure if that was meant to reflect the story, or just a bit of bad editing or Shepherd herself got lost in one of the many threads of the story).
As a stark contrast to this, we have Ory, who is running with a group of Shadowed people, funnily enough, also trying to get to New Orleans, but for different reasons. His story is probably far more in-depth and far more interesting than Max’s was, there was many more characters, and because of various things I don’t want to say to give away spoilers, it impacted the story more. Ory’s story was, for me anyway, very powerful, and incredibly gritty and emotional, you could feel what he was going through, and it is a real testament to the power of Shepherds writing skill and exceptional character skills the story she provides.
There is also a third stream of the Amnesiac – a male adult who loses his memory due to an accident, and is seeking medical treatment, and is tied in with all of this at the start, but later plays a pivotal role. His character, and (I just don’t want to give away any spoilers, so sorry for my ambiguity here), his story, are both fascinating, and magical, and again, brings such an amazing element to the story.
My one ‘issue’ with the story, and I am being pedantic here, is that it is never really explained why the shadows disappeared? I am someone who kind of likes to know these things in stories, some things I can leave to the imagination (there are elements to the end of the book that are a perfect example), but I think it would have been good to have some explanation as to why. But again, minor thing, and me being fussy, most people probably won't care, and given the quality of the story, you can really overlook this.
This will be one of the standout books of the year, something that once you read it, people will be thinking about it, talking about it, looking at their shadow differently for a long time afterwards and checking it is still there.
I can guarantee that those that have read it spent several days after looking to see if their shadow was still there and got funny for a second if they couldn’t see it straight away. There will be mixed feelings about this book, it will touch people in different ways, but one thing is for sure, no one will forget it once they have read it.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
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.
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