How High We Go In The Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu – Book Review

How High We go in the Dark is a speculative dystopian with a stunning cover that’s been compared to Station Eleven and Cloud Atlas. It caught my eye straight away, and I really wanted to like this one more than I did.

It is an original, imaginative and bold story of a terrifying pandemic spawned from an ancient virus which spans generations. You would think another pandemic tale may hit a little too close to home, but that isn’t the case here. This pandemic is much more deadly, and its consequences so bizarre and bleak that it felt almost otherworldly, and it works. This is an incredibly ambitious, explorative and wondrous piece of work.

But, I did have some issues. The first being the most obvious – this book is so full of death, it’s incredibly depressing. I know it’s the sign of a good author that they can make you feel so much, but this is a book you need to pace yourself with to avoid emotional trauma. It is incredibly bleak, with every chapter feeling like it ends in more death and desolation.

But, it is creative, and there’s some glimmers of genius in the sci-fi world the author creates. There’s a euthanasia theme park for children, a elegy hotel, robot dogs and even a talking pig.

I think another issue I personally had with this was the way the story was told. It’s promoted as a novel, but it’s essentially a collection of very loosely connected short stories. I’ve never got along with short stories, I don’t have enough time to connect with the characters, and that detracts from the story for me.

The characters started to feel repetitive. I liked that they were mainly all Japanese American or Japanese, but they’re also all mainly male, with complicated relationships with their parents and their culture. This would have been interesting to read about, except all their backstories started to feel the same, and reading the same self-centred diatribes and sob stories re-treaded numerous times in different forms became a little tedious.

So, I’m not sure how I feel about this one. It took me a long time to get through, and it’s not something I’d rush to recommend to friends. But I can’t help but respect the creativity, the scope of this novel and the incredibly evocative, emotional writing which will get under your skin – whether you want it to or not.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 3/5.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Contemporary, Drama, Dystopia, Sci-Fi

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