Title:The Book of M
Author: Peng Shepherd
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Post-Apocalypse/Dystopia
Publisher: William Morrow / Harper Voyager
Publication date: June 8 2018
Paperback: 485 pages
Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.
One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.
Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.
As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
If you lose all of your memory are you still you?
I read The Book of M months ago and have been sitting on this review since then because I didn’t know quite how to talk about it: how to describe it to start with, then how to organise my feelings and thoughts about the novel. On the former, I think I settled on Fantasy Post-Apocalyptic Horror as a good description of the genres it covers; as to the latter, I absolutely loved it. It feels like the most unique thing I have read of late, reminding me of the excitement I felt when I read The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.
How does it all start?
Well, with a real-life fact: have you heard of Zero Shadow Day? Zero Shadow Day is an astronomical phenomenon that happens in locations between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn when, for a brief period of time, minutes really, those places are perfectly aligned with the sun and NOTHING HAS SHADOWS. Then, the Earth continues it rotation and the shadows return, life carries on.
The catastrophic events that take place in The Book of M start just after one of those Zero Shadow Days in India, when one man’s shadow never comes back. At first, this is seen as a trivial yet-interesting event. But then the man starts forgetting things. At first, he forgets about small, seemingly inconsequential stuff, then bigger and more impactful memories are gone, his address, his mother’s face, his own name. The day he forgets about the market where he is now living is the day things start to change: the whole market and the people on it disappear completely. Gone from reality.
And then other people’s shadows start vanishing.
The world collapses: when the people on it can’t hold on to their memories and effectively to themselves, reality is fundamentally – and literally – altered. The Forgetting ends the world as it once was.
Meanwhile, years after The Forgetting happened, Max and Ory are a loving married couple living the apocalypse out alone in the middle of nowhere, making do. But Max has just lost her shadow. She has started forgetting. So one day she takes off on her own, because she can’t bear to think about the day she will forget Ory because that will be the day when she will make him disappear from existence. Mas brings with her a tape recorder, which she will use in order to keep her memories for as long as she can.
Ory comes back from a hunting trip to find Max gone, he thinks she just forgot where they were based and he takes off after her.
But they go in separate directions. Their narratives alternate, running apart from one another until inevitably theirs lives and narratives will intersect once again.
Meanwhile, there is a man though whose shadow never disappears but whose memory was lost in a car accident way before The Forgetting. His true north is finding out how to restore people’s memories – or at least turn those who forgot into functioning members of society again. He eventually settles down in New Orleans with his followers. Word is out there he may have found a cure.
If you lose all of your memory are you still you? Are you worth saving no matter what?
Going back to my first paragraph, I did say this book is rather unique – and it certainly is. And this is actually a huge feat because most of the novel really is just a post-apocalyptic road trip and we all have seen those: people being their best and their worst when shit hits the fan so monumentally. Although there is nothing new about that or about the horrors that ensue, the fact that the novel is firmly set on a Fantasy sphere is what makes it different: the shadows’ disappearance, the memories and The Forgetting and the eventual “cure” that the mysterious man finds all intermingle in an interesting Fantasy package.
However, to me, the novel’s greatest strengths come first, from the conversations it has with regards to identity, sense of self and history; secondly, with how part of the narrative, the one from Max and her recorder, is so unreliable due to how she starts forgetting little by little everything about life, the universe and herself.
The Book of M is a beautiful, tragic yet thoughtful book and all of its darkness and sadness have stayed with me, just as its hopefulness did too. Without a shadow (eh) of a doubt, one of my top 10 reads of 2018.
Rating: 9 – Damn near perfect.
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