Unlocking the Mystery: The Book of M and Its Enigmatic Storyline

As the blurb for The Book of M says, it sets events in the story in the near future where everybody all over the world has to face a new reality triggered by pandemic amnesia. Medical science cannot explain the phenomenon, let alone offer a cure. One thing is certain; the disappearance of the shadow is the only onset symptom of the loss of memory.

The Book of M

What happens here is an overly exaggerated version of Zero Shadow Day, during which the Sun casts no shadow at the zenith (the highest point) position. The term “zero shadow” is not entirely correct because the shadow always exists. However, it falls directly under an object to give the impression of no shadow at all. The peculiarity takes place twice a year in a few locations in the tropics between the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.4° S and the Tropic of Cancer at 23.4° N. Each time, the phenomenon only lasts for about 90 seconds or less. In the United States, Zero Shadow Day is observable only in Hawaii. As the Earth continues rotating in its axis, all shadows return and nothing really changes.

In the fictional world of The Book of M, the disappearance of shadow has a long-lasting effect and eventually starts a progressive loss of memory as well. One of the first to undergo the episode is a man from India, while he was outdoors in a spice market. The anomaly fascinates everybody worldwide, and even more so when the man shows signs of progressive amnesia. He cannot recognize his family and therefore is taken to a medical facility. Soon enough, the revelation comes that it is not an isolated incident.

Elsewhere all around the globe, people’s shadows vanish and they lose something else more previous: memories, including all knowledge prior to the incident. They can’t remember how to unlock doors, open cans, or get back to or leave their houses. As the number of the inflicted piles up, the consequences are horrifying; deaths, heartbreaks, chaos, destruction, and societal collapse.

Two years have passed since the indiscriminate widespread attack of The Forgetting, as the incident is now called. Orlando and his wife Max find refuge in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. They are safe for now, but they also know the likelihood of escaping the pandemic is slim to none. It will come eventually, and take away their memories as well.

The Book of M

The Book of M opens with Orlando stepping out of the hotel to gather supplies as the couple is dangerously running out of food. He comes across a deer and wants to capture the animal for sustenance until he realizes the deer has a couple of tiny wings rather than antlers on its head. And then the inevitable happens; Max loses her shadow. Afraid the memory loss will follow right away and drive her mad, she runs from her husband. The journey begins here. Max is running away from the horrifying fate of memory loss, whereas Orlando is in a desperate attempt to find a woman who probably has forgotten his existence. The two travel separate paths and the narratives in the book alternate until their fate intersect again.

Apart from Orlando and Max, there are two more major characters in the story: The One Who Gathers and Mahnaz. The former is a mysterious personality shrouded in secrecy. Everyone has heard of the name but no one knows who the individual is. Words on the streets say that The One Who Gathers can help people keep their memories before too late. Mahnaz is just an ordinary girl trying to navigate a new world. The confused teenager only wants to see her mother and sister for the last time before losing them for good.

Both Orlando and Mahnaz are hoping for reunions with their own families. Max also is wandering through difficult times. Although she may not be specifically looking for Orlando, she struggles hard to keep her memories of him until the very end. Regardless of their motivations, all three embark on a perilous journey into a strange vicious world in a tumultuous time. Murderous bandits are everywhere and a war is raging between the “shadowed army” and the “shadowless king” at every turn.

We think The Book of M gives a real sense of emotional urgency to rush toward the end. Everything has to happen before full-blown amnesia strikes, and the good thing is that the novel goes straight to the fundamental problem at the very beginning. It is a love story set in a post-apocalyptic world with all the dangerous thrills of the collapse of civilization and the promise of a new start. The ending (or perhaps some pages leading to it) might not be everyone’s cup of tea with the ambiguous appearance of Ursula, a woman who has Max’s memories and personality, only after Orlando and Mahnaz fall for each other. Ignoring the unanswered mystery, The Book of M is a fantastic read revolving around the heartbreaking narrative and inevitability of a loss.

Have you read The Book of M? Do you think a person’s memory has everything to do with identity? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know:

Who is the author of The Book of M?

The Book of M is the first novel by Peng Shepherd, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Harper Collins published it in 2018.

What are her other books?

Peng Shepherd has so far written three books, including:

  • The Book of M (June 2018)
  • The Future Library (August 2021)
  • The Cartographers (March 2022)

Has the book received any award?

Various popular publications such as Refinery29, Elle, and The Verge chose The Book of M to be the book of the year. It also won the Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction in 2019.

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