Book review: Come Join Our Disease by Sam Byers

Book review: Come Join Our Disease by Sam Byers

reviewed by Frances Churchward.

Let me say right at the outset that I detested this book. With most books, I find that I am able to struggle through to the end even if I am not greatly enjoying it. However, with this book,it disgusted me and I had to give up halfway through as I simply did not have the stomach to carry on with it.

Come Join Our Disease tells the story of Maya who lost her job and her home and who has been sleeping on the streets for a year. After her eviction, along with several other homeless people, from an encampment, Maya, alone, is chosen to take part in a special rehabilitation programme; how she comes to be selected for this project and exactly by whom is not made clear. She is coached in her new role by two somewhat shadowy characters named Seth and Ryan who, throughout the initial and subsequent meetings with Maya, appear to be performing a double act. Maya is to be given accommodation, a job and a bank account. In exchange, her  progress is to be charted on social media and she is required to regularly post photos of herself on Instagram.

Maya decides to go along with the project although, as the reader is party to her thought processes learns, has no actual enthusiasm for it. Her new job involves computer image processing which requires her to view images of depravity about which she must make judgements. Due to the nature of the job, all employees of the company are sent away at regular intervals to a retreat for “detoxing”. Maya becomes constipated during her weekend at the retreat and it is during her train journey home that she begins to indulge in unpleasant and unhygienic practices. Once Maya is back home the reader is subjected to a graphic description of her bowel movement and subsequent actions and it was at this point that I began to seriously doubt my capacity for continuing with the book. I decided, probably unwisely, to struggle on for a bit but the defecation theme continued and, if anything, increased.

I think that, despite only reading half, I managed to grasp the underlying theme of the book; Maya is on a journey but not one towards her own rehabilitation as Seth and Ryan have planned but, rather, of alienation and towards her rejection of the prevailing culture. The reader is party to Maya’s thought processes as she comes to feel the need to seek freedom from the daily toil at a dreary job in order to pay for her necessities and she rejects commonly held ideas about decency, preferring to veer towards depravity. She comes to the conclusion that most human constructions are futile.

This book was possibly a brave attempt by the author to challenge the life and current beliefs of those of us residing in the western world and, perhaps, to encourage people “to rage against the machine.”  However, I remain unconvinced that the inclusion of so much detail about bowel movements is the way forward. Those of you who are made of much stronger stuff than I may wish to give it a try but I am not able to recommend that you do.


  • Out now, published by Faber and Faber. Available from good bookshops, including independent bookshop October Books, in Portswood, Southampton: