The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, looks at Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, the bestselling novel that was adapted into a critically acclaimed HBO series by Damon Lindeloff (with Perrotta’s aid), starring the likes of Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston. This book was published by Fourth Estate.

“An excellent, character driven novel that looks at life after the Rapture very well with some creepy and unnerving elements that allows for a very powerful read. If you’re a fan of the TV show but are yet to read the book, then you can’t go far wrong with this novel – however, be warned – much like the show itself, it’s not for everyone.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

From the author of ‘Little Children’ and now a major new TV series, ‘The Leftovers’ asks what if one day some of us simply vanished? And some were left behind?

Following the sudden disappearance of thousands of citizens, Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to bring a sense of hope to his traumatised community, but his family has fallen apart in the wake of disaster. Kevin’s wife has joined a homegrown cult, and his son is a disciple of the prophet Holy Wayne. Only Jill, Kevin’s daughter, remains, and she’s no longer the sweet student she once was.

Written with a rare ability to illuminate our everyday struggles, ‘The Leftovers’ is a startling novel about love, connection and loss.

HBO’s The Leftovers is probably the most divisive show on television right now, and although it has boasted an impressive cast which includes the likes of Christopher Eccleston (aka the Best Doctor), Justin Theroux and many more, it’s not winning over everyone. However, for myself – The Leftovers was a success, even if it took me some time to get into it, contending with True Detective, Penny Dreadful and Halt and Catch Fire for the best show of the year so far, and with the fact that I enjoyed it that much, it would only be a matter of time before I read the book adaption.

Leftoverset in a world where the Rapture has already claimed a total of 1.2% of the population, and not all of them Christians, the Leftovers isn’t a book that deals with the hows and whys. Don’t expect to find many answers here because there are none, and indeed, it’s not a spoiler to say that there is no explanation offered for how the Rapture happened. Much like the show it remains incredibly confusing, which may be off-putting to some but once you get used to what’s going on then The Leftovers becomes a pretty good read. Whilst not a contender for ‘book of the year’ status, it’s certainly a very solid offering and there are far worse novels on the market right now, and as a standalone novel with no planned sequel, Perrotta crafts a compelling read that will have you hooked from start to finish.

The characters are many, and they are all human. Don’t go in expecting larger than life figures because the ones on offer are all flawed, powerful and imperfect creatures. People who you like will do bad things and people who you don’t like will do good things, and this allows for plenty of punch in the character department, especially when they’re developed this well. Don’t go in expecting any one-dimensional figures here. The Leftovers is focused primarily on the Garvey family, and their numerous members. Kevin Garvey, the Mayor at a small town knows everyone and everyone knows him. As one would expect, he’s got plenty on his plate to deal with – and not just from his family, however we’re going to look at the Garveys first, and you couldn’t ask for a more dysfunctional relationship. Kevin’s son Tom, is estranged and no longer shares contact with him. His wife, Laurie, has left him to join a creepy, Post-Rapture cult called the Guilty Remnant, forbidding speech and having chain smoking as a requirement, and his father, also called Kevin, has been deemed insane. And then finally there’s Jill, who isn’t exactly your grade A student anymore, who has been influenced by house guest Aimee, who’s her best friend and is living with them due to running from her abusive family.

Outside the Garveys, we get to see Reverend Matt Jamieson, played by Christopher Eccleston in the show. Like many Christians left behind, he’s not dealing with the Rapture well, and is determined to make sure that people remember that those who vanished during the Rapture weren’t always good people. As a result, this gets him into trouble with people who have lost loved ones a lot, and allows for a very good character study indeed. The other major non-Garvey player here is Nora, who has lost her entire family in the Rapture including multiple children, and is always a powerful presence in the book as much as she is in the show.

You’re probably wondering why I spent an excessive amount of time here mentioning the characters before actually getting to the plot, and that’s because there is little in terms of a clear cut storyline. Don’t expect this to be plot or action heavy – there’s little of both. However, despite this, Perrotta will manage to hook your attention so that you won’t care, because the novel is, rather than exploring the Rapture itself, is about the events following the Rapture, and thus technically could be described as Post-Rapture novel rather than a Rapture novel. Whatever it’s described at however, one thing’s for sure though, it’s incredibly well written and while it sometimes may move along at a slow pace, it remains mostly consistent throughout.

The biggest problem with The Leftovers is that it’s not for everyone and is a tricky novel to recommend. Like the show this book has been extremely divisive and you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Falling into the character-driven section of mainstream literature, despite the high praise that I’ve heaped upon this novel, I’m going to as a result recommend this but only for the right person. Don’t go in expecting an uplifting, light hearted novel – this book is as depressing as they come. If you’re in the wrong mood before going in you’ll be thrown off, but if you go in knowing what you’re going to expect then you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of it.

VERDICT: 8.5/10

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer