The Presence of Absence

“Tantalizing . . . some of the most beautiful prose of Van Booy’s oeuvre . . . The Presence of Absence runs blood-rich with declarations that make you inhale sharply.” Washington Post

As a young writer lies dying, he has one last story to tell. A tale of devotion and a meditation on what might lie beyond death, this is Simon Van Booy at his visionary best.

Max Little is bedridden in a New York hospital. “Language is a map,” he reflects, “leading to a place not on the map.” As the hours slip away, Max recalls both the moving and ordinary moments of his life with his beloved wife Hadley, unsure of what lies ahead.

Simon Van Booy is not only a master storyteller but a writer of fiction rich with philosophical insights into things both mapped and undiscovered. In this innovative novel infused with poetic clarity and graced with humor, he asks the reader to find beauty—even gratitude—in the cycle of birth and death.

The Presence of Absence is a deeply affecting story that parts the darkness to reveal what has been just out of sight all along.


“Simon Van Booy electrifyingly combines story with parable. The Presence of Absence boggles and reverberates: wise, witty and always breathtakingly beautiful.”
San Francisco Chronicle, Best Fiction of 2022

“With its elegant passages on love and the fallibility of memory . . . this indelible portrait of transience, sorrow and hope will move readers.”
Shelf Awareness

“Formally playful and fable-esque . . . If you don’t just like reading, but reading about reading, then this is the book for you.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Rich in setting and emotion. As ever with Van Booy, the reader is in good hands.”
Publishers Weekly

“I read it twice, pinching down page-corners to mark phrases . . . soon the book resembled an origami fan.”
—Joan Frank, Washington Post

“In Simon Van Booy’s extraordinary novel The Presence of Absence, each well-wrought sentence builds upon the next, taking us deeper into Max Little’s life with staggering lucidity . . . A mind-bending, affecting story that breaks the heart open with startling clarity.”
New York Journal of Books

“It took some nerve to venture into this territory—death . . . we are privileged to encounter Max Little dying and pondering questions that date from the start of our species hundreds of thousands of years ago.”
East Hampton Star


The Presence of Absence amazed me. It’s so deftly, delicately written, it seems as if real breeze is blowing—this, in the context of serious, sad subject matter. It’s a perfect integration of form and content, though who would have imagined it this way except Simon Van Booy? Reading it made me think about the many things hidden in and from our lives that appear only when they do. It’s a moving, brilliant book.”
Ann Beattie, author of A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

The Presence of Absence is impossible to resist. Consistently insightful, symphonic in the music of its thought. A captivating fable that echoes in the mind long after the book is finished.”
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic 

The Presence of Absence is unfaltering in its tenet that if we’re here for nothing else, it’s to keep others going. That who we are is determined by our part in the ongoing story of others, and that we should celebrate that. Or rather, we must.”
Cynan Jones, author Stilliside

Simon Van Booy is the award-winning, bestselling author of more than a dozen books for adults and children. He is the editor of three volumes of philosophy and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC. His books have been translated into many languages and optioned for film. Raised in rural North Wales, he currently lives in New York where he is also a book editor and a volunteer EMT for Central Park Medical Unit and R.V.A.C.