“The Book of M” by Peng Shepherd— “The Essential Pandemic Novel”

Shepherd, Peng, “The Book of M”, William Peng, 2018.

“The Essential Pandemic Novel”

Amos Lassen

“The Book of M” by Peng Shepherd is “a haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel that explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.” I am sure we all recognize this feeling today. The story is set in the near future and is the story of a

 group of ordinary people who are trapped in an extraordinary catastrophe. They risk everything to save the ones they love. We read of the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself. When a man loses his shadow suddenly, science is unable to explain what happened and the plague spreads and its victims who gain amazing abilities, lose their memories. Ory and his wife Max decide to hide with the hope of escaping what is coming,  the Forgetting but the inevitable happens. Max runs, hoping to spare Ory. But he refuses to let her go and sets out to find her. The are om separate journeys that take them on journeys discovery in this unrecognizable new world that is  filled with bandits, war zones and cults. It seems that everything may come from a strange new force that could hold the cure to save those without shadows.

This is a dystopic future novel filled with textual experimentation as the lives of the characters, who mix emotional heft with sudden, rapid action are mysteriously overtaken. Ory and Max, are at the emotional core of “The Book of M.”

People will soon forget all that they have ever known and become mysterious figures. The book opens with Max losing her shadow after having been in hiding with her partner Ory for two years. Ory is trying to set into motion a system of rules to protect her. Once the two of them are separated, they each go on their way through a strange America. The author’s logic and world-building are apparent and amazing throughout.  The many supporting characters who play into the action and exposition move the story forward. 

This is not the kind of novel I usually read but we are living in very different times; times we never expected to see. It was the first sentence that pulled me in and as I read I began to see the characters as friends and the very strange universe totally captivated me. Their searches for a cure, love, connection, and hope is very, very familiar.

 As the world is collapsing, people start losing their shadows and their memories, a little at a time. We meet characters who have already forgotten everything before “The Forgetting began”. I began to think of how we would act if we had no memories—does reality cease to exist?  The ideas here bring questions to mind—what does humanity mean as we face the unknown? Is hope the way to survival? How far are we willing to go for those we love?

Ory’s and Max’s relationship, separation, continued connection, and journey towards each other are the focus of the novel. This is a character driven novel in which the characters and what they mean to each other is what matters.

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