The Orwell Prizes for Political Writing and Political Fiction shortlists, released last month, highlight the finest politically engaged books published in 2020. Throughout June, we will be sharing Q+As with the shortlisted writers, or extracts from books from both lists, here on our blog. To see the lists, visit our website here.
Here we have an extract from 'Leave the World Behind' by Rumaan Alam, his taut and terrifying disaster novel, which is a masterclass in dystopian scene-setting and pacing. Skewering consumerism, privilege, and our reliance on technology, Alam highlights the uselessness of societal divisions in the face of shared global catastrophe. A highly original, eerie, and prescient page-turner which wrestles complex social issues with confidence and verve.
There was a knock at the door. A knock at the door of this house, where no one knew they were, not even the global positioning system, this house near the ocean but also lost in farmland, this house of red bricks painted white, the very material the smartest little piggy chose because it would keep him safest. There was a knock at the door.
What were they supposed to do?
Amanda stood, frozen, a prey’s instinct. Gather your thoughts. “Get a bat.” That old solution: violence.
“A bat?” Clay pictured the flying mammal. “A bat?” He understood, then, but where would he get a bat? When had he last held a bat? Did they even have a baseball bat at home, and if they did, had they brought it on vacation? No, but when had they decided to forsake that American diversion? In their foyer on Baltic Street they had a clutch of umbrellas of varying degrees of broken, an extra windshield scraper, Archie’s lacrosse stick, some of those circulars, never asked for, a sheaf of coupons in rainproof plastic that would never biodegrade. Well, lacrosse was from the Indians, maybe that was more all-American. On a console table, beneath a framed photograph of Coney Island, there was a brass object, an artful little torque, the kind of made-in-China geegaw meant to add character to hotel rooms or model apartments. He picked it up but found it weighed nothing. Besides, what would he do, wrap his fingers around it, strike some stranger in the head? He was a professor.
“I don’t know.” Her whisper was built for the stage. Surely who- ever was on the other side of the door could hear her. “Who could it be?”
This was ridiculous. “I don’t know.” Clay put the little objet d’art back in its place. Art could not protect them.
There was another knock at the door. This time, a man’s voice. “I’m sorry. Hello?”
Clay could not imagine a killer could be so polite. “It’s nothing. I’ll get it.”
“No!” Amanda had this terrible flash of feeling, a premonition if the worst came to pass and passing paranoia if it did not. She did not like this.
“Let’s just calm down.” Maybe he was unconsciously channeling behaviors seen in films. He looked at his wife until she seemed to calm, like what tamers did with their lions, dominance and eye contact. He didn’t entirely believe in the act. “Get the phone. Just in case.” That was decisive and smart; he was proud of himself for having thought of it.
Amanda went into the kitchen. There was a desk, a cordless telephone, a 516 number. In her lifetime the cordless telephone had been both innovation and obsolete. They still had one at home, but no one ever used it. She picked it up. Should she press the button, dial the nine and then the one and wait?
Clay unbolted the lock and pulled open the door.