The last few weeks have posed a reading challenge, and part of that has been caused by meeting the right book at the wrong time.
As you may already know, I live in the lovely coastal town of Santa Cruz, California. About three weeks ago now, we experienced the most spectacular electrical storm. It was beautiful and, as it turned out, incredibly dangerous. Fires sprang up all over the state, destroying homes and endangering my own town. Friends, who lived in the redwoods surrounding Santa Cruz evacuated to my house, providing another twist and turn in an already difficult year. For a week, it was as if COVID didn’t exist. People who had been hibernating for months were forced to accommodate friends who had nowhere else to go. We were all forced to ask, whether the more imminent danger was the fire knocking at our door, or the pandemic that continued to rampage throughout the US.
The oddest part was just what a happy week it was.
Around day two it became apparent that my friends were unlikely to lose their homes. The winds were kind and the one night that threatened a further storm, actually provided rain. The following four days provided me with the sense of community and friendship which, even if it had always been there, had been on the back burner for the last few months. Each night we took turns cooking, danced in the kitchen, watched movies together and talked. It was a little dose of the medicine that we had all been missing. The social part of us was being fed and watered and we were happy.
In the midst of all this, I picked up The Book of M by Peng Shepherd. Like so many people I feel a little like I’ve lost my mojo of late. Things that traditionally bring me joy and comfort are not doing so in quite the same way. I’ve also been very fortunate to find myself a new job during COVID and starting that, whilst balancing evacuees, and all the other things going on in life, has left me tired. Sometimes too tired to read.
The Book of M is an extraordinarily good and creative first novel. It’s the kind of book that I used to love to pass on to the now Ex-Husband, as in my mind it crosses between fiction and sci-fi. It was however completely the wrong book to read during a pandemic.
One day a man in India loses his shadow and the story fascinates people the world over. Everyone tunes their TVs to the story, to find out every detail. Suddenly Hemu, the original shadow loser, isn’t alone and what becomes an isolated incident then begins to spread slowly and surely across the world. The problem is, and what no one realized at the beginning, is that shadows are where people store their memories.
I lost myself in The Book of M. The story was amazing and yet, in some ways, in this moment of pandemic awareness, it cut a little too close to the bone. The sense of isolation, of hopelessness, of something that seems never ending and without cure, all resonated a little too strongly right now. Living in a State, that seems battered in every direction, I kept wanting to put this down, for it to end and yet, I had to keep going in the hope that ultimately it would somehow work out. Pages turned and it was a great read and at the same time, it could feel like wading through treacle. If I’d read it in February I would have sped through it in a week, in August/September, it took me the better part of four.
Save this recommendation for happier times, but definitely read it.