Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
The Lalagirl Reading A Book Outside
Her Campus Media

Book Review: Severance by Ling Ma


Severance, by Chinese-American author Ling Ma, is a 2018 satirical science fiction novel. It follows the main character, Candace Chen as she navigates life in New York during the outbreak of the fictional Shen Fever. From the usage of masks to the implementation of travel bans, the book is eerily similar to the life we know today dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The novel is told from a first-person point of view and focuses on Candace, a product coordinator who oversees the manufacture of Bibles in China at a company called Spectra. Candace is sort of like a lost soul, lacking direction, doing her job diligently but dispassionately. Before she met her boyfriend Jonathan, she would wander around New York aimlessly, indulging in her hobby of photography and seemingly searching for something to fill the void of loneliness. After five years of her living in New York and working at Spectra, the announcement of Shen Fever slowly trickles into the news where most people pay no mind to it at first, continuing on with their daily lives as usual. Shen Fever originated from Shenzhen, China and is contracted through breathing in undetectable fungal spores. Infected people display zombie-like behavior and repeat old routines over and over until they finally drop dead. As the disease progresses, New York becomes a ghost town, until finally Candace is the only person left alive. Weeks later, a group of survivors led by a dictator finds her and takes her in. Candace struggles under the authority of this strict leader and dreads following his ridiculous routines.

Like in the book, Covid-19 originated from China as well. I was baffled at the number of other similarities between the book and the current state of the world and how much I could relate to the protagonist. Her tendency to keep to herself and just not knowing what to do with her life were all things that really resonated with me. I think the author predicted very accurately the slow, gradual way the world came to a halt because not everything happened at once in the book or in real life. Businesses closed down one by one, there were shortages of products in stores, and there was time to talk about it, to complain about the inconveniences. Ma also exposes the way society is ruled by capitalistic structures/routines and how the living aren’t much different from the fevered zombies mindlessly going through the motions of their daily routines.

Something unique about this book’s style is that the dialogue between characters do not have any quotation marks. I’ve never read a book like that, and personally I don’t think it makes following the story any harder. The book cover is also this soft, light pink color, which I love! 

If you’re looking for a shocking page turner, be sure to pick up Severance and give it a read!

Emily is a junior and majoring in English at Michigan State University.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️