‘The Measure’: How To Live When Your Days are Numbered?


In a provocative debut, Nikki Erlick puts familiar prejudices under a fresh spotlight.

The Measure was only published this June, yet it quickly became one of the year’s most popular books, having instantly made the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s an absorbing, thought-provoking story that explores fate, mortality, prejudice and humanity.

‘The Measure’: Synopsis

One day, people around the world wake up to find identical boxes on their doorsteps. The boxes purport to contain something (a string) that will tell them how long their lives will measure. Some people refuse to open the boxes and hide them from sight. Of those who take the plunge, some are jubilant to learn of their long lives, while others are brought to a standstill by the shortness of their strings.

In an interview with Write or Die Tribe, author Nikki Erlick revealed that she was inspired by the ancient Greek myths of the Fates and Pandora’s Box. “I wanted to see if I could take the chaos of life and destiny and these unanswerable questions and try to turn them into art. Stories are a way of helping me navigate the world and navigate its challenges.”

In The Measure, the arrival of the strings changes everything. Nina and Maura thought they’d be lifelong partners but with only one long string between them, their happily-ever-after seems threatened. Ben also thought he’d had The One but the relationship quickly crumbles under the pressure of the strings. Hank, an ER doctor, has always sought to help others; can he still do so with such a short string?

For Amie, who chooses not to look, the strings still bring heartache to her loved ones and cause chaos amongst the children she teaches. Politician Anthony suddenly has a winning campaign message: the supposed need to discriminate against short-stringers. And for Javier and Jack, best friends finishing off their military training, difficult decisions must be made about active duty and friendship when they’re faced with their strings.

Told by eight different characters, The Measure manages to encompass a variety of experiences and emotions.

Should You Read ‘The Measure’?

On the one hand, The Measure is about what people decide to prioritise when they’re confronted by their mortality. On the other hand, it’s about the dangerous way in which fear leads to prejudice and discrimination and, ultimately, death.

The Measure is premised on something unknown and supernatural, yet how people react is not unfamiliar to readers. Don’t expect a thriller, though: finding out where the strings came from is not the point of the novel. If you enjoyed books like The Midnight Library for this reason, then you’ll find a similar takeaway here.

Despite the hand that fate deals them, the characters are able to find meaning in both life and death. Their introspection, and sharings with their support group, lend a reflective, even melancholy, tone to the novel, one which can only be passed onto the reader.

If you go ahead and dive into The Measure, I recommend taking it slow. The themes that run through the novel are weighty.  It’s also rare in fiction for a character from whose perspective the story is told, to die way before the end of the book.

In The Measure, the radical distrust of short-stringers is totally recognisable from just about any prejudice, whether that’s racism, Islamophobia or homophobia. So, it can be triggering in this sense, and of course, there are several deaths, some of which are violent.

About Nikki Erlick

The Measure is Nikki Erlick’s first novel. She’s worked as a journalist and travel writer, with her articles appearing in New York Magazine, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Huffington Post, amongst other publications.

As a travel writer, she visited almost twelve countries on assignment. One of the places she explored is Verona, which features in The Measure. Erlick attended Harvard University and later did her Master’s in Global Thought at Columbia University.

The Measure is published by The Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. It retails for R338 at Exclusive Books.

Remember:  Novels about mental health can trigger distress. If you need immediate support, contact Life-Line (086 132 2322: Toll free-24 hours), SADAG (0800 567 567: Toll-free 8 am-8 pm), Suicide Crisis Help-Line (0800 567 567: Toll-free 8 am-8 pm/Sms Help-Line:31393), Substance Abuse Helpline (0800 121314: Toll-free 24 hours), a government ambulance (10177) or  ER24 (at own cost: 084 124 or 8110).

Jenna Solomon

Jenna is a journalism, African studies and social development graduate. She writes about active citizenship and lifestyle in South Africa.

You may also like...