There are all kinds of books suggesting a dystopian future, involving things like alien invasions, zombie plagues, nuclear winter, global warming, the list goes on and on. However, The Book of M, by Peng Shepherd, has an absolutely unique reason for the world’s ending: people start losing their shadows, and with their shadows, their memories. If you’ve ever dealt with someone who’s suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll immediately realize how nightmarish the prospect of someone’s losing their memories is, and you can easily imagine what a horror show it would be if millions of people began suffering the same syndrome at once.
The Forgetting, as the syndrome is aptly called, started in India with one person losing his shadow, and nobody understanding what was happening or where this would lead. Soon, however, the disease spread around the world like a plague, with people losing their shadows and then their memories and then turning into something other than human.
The book starts with Ory and Max, a married couple hiding out in the wilds, hoping to escape the disease by staying isolated and away from what passes for civilization (which, of course, would be devastated by millions of people losing their memories, and that’s without considering the other side effects of the Forgetting). They almost live a normal life until the day Max’s shadow starts to disappear. Frightened by the prospect of what she might do to Ory if she loses her memories altogether, Max runs away, but Ory refuses to let her go and follows her trail through a strange and damaged America. Both Max and Ory encounter bandits, would-be warriors, and a weird cult that worships the shadowless ones. The world around them loses its coherence and sense along with people’s memories of an ordinary world, as if the only thing that made reality follow accepted laws is people’s willingness to believe that it does.
It’s not just a dystopian novel; it’s also a love story, a reflection on the importance of memories and human connections. If you loved Station Eleven (as I did), or if you’ve had experiences with people losing their memories, this is definitely a book you’re going to want to read.