The Book of M
December 19, 2018 5:41 AM - by Peng Shepherd - Subscribe

A man in India suddenly loses his shadow, a phenomenon scientists cannot explain. As people around the globe watch, fascinated, from their TV screens, he unexpectedly begins to lose something else, too: his memories. Soon, he isn't the only one afflicted. In communities all around the globe, people's shadows disappear, and in their place come strange and unfathomable abilities that threaten humanity's very existence.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I will try and comment more specifically on the book and discuss its plot points later, probably.

But I know many people check out FF book posts for recommendations or just seeing if other MeFites think something is good or bad. So let me do that first.

This is pretty great. I'd particularly recommend it if you enjoy seeing a sci-fi premise rendered in an allegorical/symbolic way, as in books like Jose Saramago's Blindness or Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation trilogy. That said, this book doesn't exactly trade in the fable-like detachment of the former or the sci-fi thought experiments of the latter.

Although its tone/feel is nowhere near that violent/harsh, its structure owes a fair bit to zombie stories, with the survivors navigating a post-apocalyptic landscape of the Shadowless and the remaining humans in search of a safe haven that may or may not exist.

Interestingly, our various POV characters come from both the Shadowed and the Shadowless, and they all hold out hope and hang onto kindness as much as they can.

So if a person wanted to characterize the feel as being like a zombie book minus the cruelty and plus empathy, that wouldn't be so far off the mark.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:28 AM on December 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

I know some people will nope right on out once the amnesiac's shadow becomes a magical elephant that can bend reality and restore shadows.

Weirdly, I was okay with it.

And the end, where Ory is told he and Max will be reunited... only to find that Max's memories have been grafted onto Ursula... Damn, that was sad.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:56 PM on December 20, 2018

I really want to read this book now. Thanks!
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:48 AM on December 22, 2018

I really, really liked this book. it just haunted me for weeks after I read it. Such a good premise, done in such an interesting way.
posted by sarcasticah at 1:21 PM on December 22, 2018

I read this after seeing this post, and I'm really glad I did - it's a good book, and I enjoyed it a lot.

I read Book of M straight after Bird Box, and one thing that struck me in particular was Book of M has a lot more diversity in its core cast of characters, where the diversity adds richness to the storytelling without in any way feeling forced. I particularly loved Naz the Iranian Olympic archer, and I now kind of feel that any post-apoc novel would benefit from having an archery expert on hand.

I think the middle section gets bogged down a bit, as Max and her crew drive around in the camper van and have various episodic encounters, while Ory gets caught up in the war in DC. Also, I feel like this must have been explained somewhere and I missed it, but why is the library controlled by the Red King the only source of books? Surely there are lots of other libraries, bookshops, and books in private homes which could be gathered up?

Also, and this is just a minor peeve of mine, I feel like about five years ago, the entire post-apocalyptic genre collectively decided to stop explaining why the world ends and just end it. I understand that explaining why something has happened is often not the point of a story, and the author is more interested in what happened next and what effect it had on the characters, and that's fine if the world-ending thing is, say, a plague that no one knows the origin of, but if your starting point is 'everyone's shadows disappear, causing amnesia and bringing magic into the world' then I really want to know the 'why' behind that. Although, as DirtyOldTown notes above, once you've got a person's shadow that turns into a magic elephant, you have to either just go with it or you don't.
posted by meronym at 12:06 PM on January 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

They weren't fixated on the library the Red King controlled because it was the only place for books in town. They were fixated on it because, the Red King being who he was, he had the single known copy of his little book of poems, and his husband wanted to recover it to see if it could be used to bring him back somehow.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2019

Now that you mention it, it does bear questioning why our folks, rather than arguing the Red King's army for scraps, weren't sending expeditions to local indie/queer book stores and just hoping to find a copy there, not to mention just raiding the shelves at other libraries and book stores for what might have been useful.

Maybe the protracted truce/negotiations with the Red King were critical for keeping his army from just killing them all.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2019

I read this after seeing this post, and I really enjoyed it, but I boy, did I hate the ending. Ory rejecting Max-in-Ursula just felt so shitty to me. As far as M knows, she's Max. Ory can accept that this magical elephant shadow can attach his wife's memories into another body, but can't accept that this body is, in many of the ways that matter, his wife?

Okay, sure, it's a complicated situation that probably would have been unsatisfying if resolved in the other direction, too, but glossing over it without even a brief contemplation of what-is-self felt sort of cruddy.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:18 AM on January 8, 2019

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