Severance by Ling Ma
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Published on 14th August 2018
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchance for an honest review.
Candace Chen is a young woman who emigrated from China to the USA with her parents when she was six. Many years later, in 2011, as Candace has grown into an adult and settled in a relationship and a job in Bible publishing, a case of Shen fever erupts all over the world. As more and more people get affected by the fever, the world comes to a standstill. But Candace is lucky enough not to have come in contact with the virus and on escaping New York she finds and joins a group of survivors who are planning on rebuilding the world by themselves.
I did like this novel. The writing is simple and delicate and a pleasure to read. It differs from most apocalyptic stories in the way that the world becomes so quiet and calm and deserted as more and more people die. Candace ends up joining this group of survivors because she has nowhere else to go. At the head of the group is Bob, an extraordinarily ordinary man who took it upon himself to lead this group of people and get them to safety. Bob has no business managing the group but somehow, they’ve all accepted him as their default leader. Candace will have to learn to abide by Bob’s rules and live in a collectivity.
Severance is above all a tale of routine and a critique of capitalism. Candace has settled into a routine of going to work, doing the same job day in day out, then going back to her boyfriend’s in the evening to watch a film; sleep and repeat. She has no ambition to pursue her passions and is mainly motivated by money which is why she ends up being the last one to leave her office, long after everyone has either fled the city or died, because she was promised a big sum of money if she could work her contract until the end. The apocalypse that is wiping the world clean is also very routinely. Indeed, when affected, people start doing the same tasks over and over again until they pass out from exhaustion. The fevered are completely non-violent, they just end up doing the same chores mindlessly for days, forgetting to eat and clean themselves. And even when Candace does end up fleeing New York, she still ends up in a routine. The group of survivors she joins repeats the same patterns everyday: driving, camping and looting, day after day.
There is also a slight critique of capitalism in the book. For example, the company that Candace works for get their products manufactured in Asian countries because it is cheaper, and even when people start dying from the fever in China, the company still tries to get the most they can out of the surviving workers. They don’t care about the health issues afflicting the workers so long as they can get the products they need.
The parts of this novel I liked best are where Candace is reminiscing about her childhood in China. I found them to be really vivid and I almost felt like I was being transported there. The parts where Candace ends up being one of the only people left in New York also reminded me of the film I am Legend; especially the way New York becomes a ghost town and you don’t meet anyone for miles apart from the odd fevered person.
Overall, I liked the book. I didn’t think the world of it but I do like the idea behind it, and the simple and poetical style in which it is written. If you like science-fiction, and post-apocalyptic stories, then check this one out.