Review: How High We Go in the Dark - Sequoia Nagamatsu
Genre: Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi, Short-Stories
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing, January 18th 2022
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“It’s strange how the discovery of an ancient girl in Siberia and viruses we’ve never encountered before can both redefine what we know about being human and at the same time threaten our humanity”
Blurbing a book to be “Station Eleven meets Cloud Atlas” guarantees two things for me: first, an immediate addition to my most-anticipated-list. Second, a high likelihood of disappointment that comes with being compared to giants… Somehow, Sequoia Nagamatsu managed to subvert that second expectation, and completely live up to my hype with his melancholic collection of tales of loss and connection.
It all begins when a grieving archaeologist unearths the subject of his deceased daughters research; the body of a girl, and the virus that killed her ages ago. From there on out, we follow this virus, now dubbed “the Arctic Plague” as it multiplies and fans out across the globe. Through a mosaic of stories, touching but never quite overlapping, we witness its effects on a variety of people spread out over both distance and time.
There are few books that live up to Station Eleven for me, but the way Nagamatsu captured the sorrowful, contemplative and intimate atmosphere of his post-pandemic world completely warrants that comparison to me. Nagamatsu proves himself a skilled wordsmith, with a particular eye for those small, quiet moments of human connection and intimacy, amids a world filled with insecurities. When it comes to the themes discussed in this book (grief, “moving on” and the desire to hold on to what you have, against the knowledge you may lose it all), that is the best way to tackle them, in my opinion. As a medical professional, these scenes resonated deeply with the way I witnessed and experienced this pandemic, and I have nothing but praise for the author for capturing this so perfectly.
My only critique of the book may be in part due to the marketing, as it’s presented to be a “novel”, while I felt it to be more of a short-story collection. This impacted my expectations going into it, and my overall enjoyment of the book as a whole. Throughout the first few chapters, this was a 5-star read for me, and I kept hoping the story would somehow loop back to those first protagonists once more, so I could see their story developed a little more. Had this choice been made, this would’ve probably been my perfect book. (Had the novel been about just the protagonists of 30,000 Years Beneath a Eulogy, City of Laughter andThe Scope of Possibility, that would’ve probably been perfect to me)
Instead, each chapter introduces a new set of characters, and although the lines all touch on each other, they never completely converge. As a set up to a short- story collection, that would’ve been perfect to me, but since I went in with the expectations of a novel I felt the connections to be a little to slim for my taste.
Overall: an ambitious and deeply impressive work of fiction that never sacrificed its sense of intimacy with its wide scope. I have a feeling this will be one of “The Great” of 2022, that will stick with me for a long time after to come.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. It truly felt like an honour to read this one early.
How High We Go in the Dark is set for release on January 18th 2022 in both US and European territory.