We Spread is the third novel from the author, whose name may be familiar from I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, which was adapted by Netflix, and Foe, which is also being made into a film. His books explore things like existential dread and ideas about the human condition which get under our skin and keep us awake at night.
His latest book is no exception. It’s the story of Penny, a woman alone who has reached old age when she has a fall, and her landlord arranges for her to be taken to a care home that she and her husband had registered her for years before. Since she is the narrator we understand that she is experiencing some confusion so we don’t know, when we enter her new home with her, whether there really is something dark and sinister going on there, or if she is just experiencing dementia or Alzeimers. This gives the book a sense of the surreal, which, heavy handedly, is an art style she works in. The home where she is taken is state of the art and only has four residents total, which gives a little a science fiction flavour, as well.
I’m in two minds about this book. The authors grasp on Penny’s mindset and how she processes things is remarkable and makes for an interesting read. You really don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, and you see her repeating things, losing time, being confused. Her paranoia becomes yours. It’s worth reading for that reason alone.
On the other hand, the book didn’t fill me with dread, existential or otherwise. It’s tapping into a societal fear of the elderly and of aging. A lot of elderly people we see as characters are cute or the butt of jokes, or are sad, alone, ugly, crazy. We fear the time when society will no longer see us as useful and attractive, when our minds will inevitably go. Except that it’s not inevitable. I get so tired of this single narrative of aging. There are plenty of people living interesting and vibrant lives in their later years. When this sense of fear isn’t there for you, this book feels a little hollow. I don’t want to reveal anything about the plot because the book is fairly short, it would be spoiling things, but it feels like it doesn’t really go anywhere.
There are some very real things about aging that should terrify us that this book could have tapped. The fact that a stranger in the US can be made your guardian and seize your property and that we are heading into a global elderly care crisis described as “catastrophic” and it may already be too late to do anything.
All told, this was a one sitting read for me. The atmosphere was created really well, the cast of characters were good, and Penny’s mindset and viewpoint was interesting. The author has a really unique voice and I would definitely read something else by this author, there just wasn’t enough meat here for me and lacked that dread that the book is touted to have, for me.
Read It If: you have fears around growing old and being vulnerable. If you’re more philosophical about growing old, it might not be a scary read for you.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for review.
2 thoughts on “We Spread by Iain Reid”
Im so happy you called this one as you saw it in terms of the character development issue as related to elderly characters. Novels i think have done elderly with depth are A man called Ove, and Olive Kitterage. Thanks for your thoughts!
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Thank you for reading. Yeah, it’s kind of sad, it think. Love your suggestions for reading older characters with depth. They’re excellent. I also think Miss Marple books are another great older character.