Book Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Dr. Cliff Miyashiro arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue his recently deceased daughter’s research, only to discover a virus, newly unearthed from melting permafrost. The plague unleashed reshapes life on earth for generations. Yet even while struggling to counter this destructive force, humanity stubbornly persists in myriad moving and ever inventive ways.

Among those adjusting to this new normal are an aspiring comedian, employed by a theme park designed for terminally ill children, who falls in love with a mother trying desperately to keep her son alive; a scientist who, having failed to save his own son from the plague, gets a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects-a pig-develops human speech; a man who, after recovering from his own coma, plans a block party for his neighbours who have also woken up to find that they alone have survived their families; and a widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter who must set off on cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead, How High We Go in the Dark follows a cast of intricately linked characters spanning hundreds of years as humanity endeavours to restore the delicate balance of the world. This is a story of unshakable hope that crosses literary lines to give us a world rebuilding itself through an endless capacity for love, resilience and reinvention. Wonderful and disquieting, dreamlike and all too possible.

How High We Go in the Dark is certainly one of the most original books I’ve read… it is part dystopia, part sci-fi, part short story collection. It was, at times, hard to read, because it centres around a world-spanning pandemic caused by rising temperatures, that decimates the population everywhere. It is harrowing stuff any time, but to read it during our own pandemic was quite a different experience. Though, in amidst all the darkness and tragedy, this book is primarily about finding hope in the middle of it all, and I appreciated the way it showed the best of humanity in the midst of all the horror.

The book, as I mentioned, is more a collection of loosely connected short stories than one liner narrative, and it’s certainly a mixed bag. The first – 30,000 Years Beneath a Eulogy – is the one that stuck with me the most, and the one I kept hoping to revisit. The main character, Cliff, was so real, and his grief and dedication really touched me, and I wanted to know more of his life, the life of his lost daughter, the childhood of his orphaned granddaughter… The second – City of Laughter – was the one which made me cry, and the one that stood out the most as a perfectly enclosed story, as it follows a young man who works at a newly-sprung up euthanasia fun park, which gives terminal children – which in the early stages of the pandemic is most of them – one last day of fun with their families. After that, a few memorable ones stand out, but nothing was quite as strong as the start, though I did like the references and ties that could be found in each story.

What I haven’t decided yet – over a week after finishing it – is whether I liked the ending or not. There is a reveal in the very last chapter (and I won’t disclose it, so as not to take away from anyone’s read) that either cheapens the entire thing, or blows it all wide open, and I can’t quite figure out which it is. Possibly a bit of both? This is a debut, after all, and I think while I admire what Nagamatsu put into his plot, he perhaps lacked some of the craft to make it land as he intended.

It’s certainly a book I will remember – parts of it, at least – and I am keen to see what Nagamatsu might write next. I am also very keen to know others’ thoughts on this book, so let me know in the comments what you made of it!

Book Info

Published: 18th January 2022 by Bloomsbury
Genre: science fiction
Pages: 304
Narration style: varied
Format read: trade paperback
Content Warnings: pandemic, death, child death, animal death, grief, illness

Similar Reads

This is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson, Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North, and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

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