Ilze Hugo


Photo: Stephanie van Gelderen

Ilze Hugo is a South African novelist. Her debut novel, The Down Days, a character-driven literary apocalyptic novel that explores life, love and loss in a post-truth society, was published by Skybound Books in conjunction with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint in 2020.

The Down Days was shortlisted for the Morning News’ Tournament of Books Award, longlisted for a Nommo Award, an Amazon Editor’s Pick and made many “must read” lists for 2020.

Ilze has a degree in Fine Arts and an honours in English Studies from Stellenbosch University, as well as an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the prestigious Morland Writing Scholarship for African Writers.

She has worked as a copywriter, travel writer, freelance features writer and part-time lecturer in literature studies, applied writing, visual communication studies and design history.

Ilze is represented by Stacia Decker of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner, New York.


The Down Days

In the vein of The Book of M comes a fast-paced, character-driven literary apocalyptic novel that explores life, love, and loss in a post-truth society.

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

Some praise for The Down Days:

"Powerful and nuanced… From the book’s first sentence, Hugo establishes herself as a master of language." —

“The Down Days is one of the most accurate depictions of the strange realities of life during a pandemic… A shaggy dog story and modern noir, The Down Days feels particularly familiar now, due in part to its strange blend of tragedy and absurdity… The result closely resembles Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, highly literary speculative fiction that blends elements of sci-fi and mysticism but grounds the high concepts with charming characters and a brilliantly realized setting… A surprisingly comforting work... The world may be dramatically changed, but when people are willing to take risks and work together, we can get through anything.” — The A.V. Club

"Readers who enjoy meaty speculative fiction like The Power by Naomi Alderman will find much to chew on in The Down Days, which poses extremely timely questions about faith, authority, hope and conspiracy theories." — BookPage

“Science fiction and spirituality intertwine in Hugo’s fun, apocalyptic mystery debut… Hugo adeptly juggles multiple points of view... The arresting prose, an effortless blend of Afrikaans slang and invented jargon, peppered with evocative turns of phrase elevates this from run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller. Fans of gritty environmental sci-fi will enjoy this dynamic, fast-paced debut.” — Publishers Weekly

"This supernaturally charged dystopian, fueled by noir-like tones and a pulp mystery format, paints a poignant picture of the class division that plagues South Africa, magnifying it through the lens of a pandemic. With sickness and death the new norm, an abstract examination of the tenets of grief becomes one of the novel’s most persuasive themes, laying the groundwork to explore the frightening—and occasionally beautiful—ways that tragedy can transform a city and its people." — Blind Corner Literary Magazine

“With a fresh new voice that jumps off the page and an incisive, probing plunge into the double- edged coin of survival and grief, The Down Days brings the tenacious synchronicity of Tom Robbins to science fiction with the pacing and mystery of a thriller.” — Delilah S. Dawson, New York Times Bestselling Author

“The descriptions in Hugo’s expressive debut paint — in this case, spray paint — a highly imaginative picture of a quarantined South African city abandoned by the government…The present-day, alternative-earth setting and prevalent Afrikaans slang combine to make a vivid and timely portrait of desolate lives looking for hope in a town closed off from the outside world.” —Booklist “A community in a city in Africa struggles to deal with circumstances after they are quarantined following an outbreak of a deadly laughing epidemic. Perfect for fans of The Book of M, The Dreamers, Wanderers, and other novels with unusual plagues.” — Booklist

“Set in South Africa, seven years into an epidemic, I was immediately drawn in by Faith, who collects corpses and scraps of information. The novel moves fluidly through a strange and twisted world filled with even stranger inhabitants, where reality becomes elusive. Definitely a writer to watch.” — Powell’s Books

“We’re living in strange times. Why not face it head on and read a novel similar to our current reality? The Down Days is a fascinating story about the residents of an African city quarantined after an outbreak of laughter... The similarities will give you hope and change the way you think about holding onto your old way of life.” — Hello Giggles

"Eerily astute and energetic… It is a strange thing to have a dystopian work of science fiction suddenly read like a realist novel in the vein of Balzac, but that is what makes The Down Days such a bizarre (but wildly addictive) book." — The New Republic

"Part of the novel’s interest is caught up in the way its diseased, post-truth wasteland rhymes with our own—but, mercifully, Hugo’s rendition of a confused, quarantined city is both stranger and more hopeful than reality." — Wired Magazine

"Whenever I read a debut author, especially if I’m impressed with their novel, I’m always curious to see how their career will take shape and how their voice will change over the years. I felt that curiosity with Ilze Hugo, who has struck the balance between literary and genre fiction, the historical and the speculative, and paired this with such masterful language that I’m eager to see what else she’ll have in store." — Strange Horizons


The Down Days made several must read lists for 2020, including:

PureWow “44 books we can’t wait to read in 2020”
Paste Magazine “25 most anticipated novels of 2020”
Book Riot “20 Must Read Debut Novels of 2020”
Gizmodo “New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books for May 2020”
Get Literary “Our Most Anticipated New Reads of May 2020”
Pop Sugar “Thank Goodness for These 25 Exciting New Books Coming Out in May” 
Hello Giggles “The 10 best new books to read in May that your virtual book club will love” 
Powell’s Books “Meet the books our buyers can’t wait to read this year”
Amazon “Best Books of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy” for May 2020
Wired Magazine “Ultimate Summer Reading List” 2020
Chicago Review of Books “Must Read Books for May” 2020
Powell's Books “Books that got us through 2020”
  Cultured Vultures “Best Books for Christmas Gifts”, 2020
Bookbub “11 Highly Anticipated Literary Science Fiction Novels”
Bustle “Most Anticipated Books for May” 2020
Hello Giggles “10 Best New Books to Read in May 2020 with your Book Club”

Jan 2020 — Publisher's Weekly Review — link

Ilze Hugo's 'The Down Days
The arresting prose, an effortless blend of Afrikaans slang and invented jargon, peppered with evocative turns of phrase (“the mountain was undercover, going full vigilante in a smoking gray cape”), elevates this from run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller. Fans of gritty environmental sci-fi will enjoy this dynamic, fast-paced debut.

Nov 2019 — Bustle — link

Start Reading Ilze Hugo's 'The Down Days' Right Now
If you've been looking for your next literary science-fiction read, look no further, because you can start reading Ilze Hugo's The Down Days right now, exclusively on Bustle.

Nov 2019 — Skybound — link

I think it was a year ago when we first let leak a tiny nugget about THE DOWN DAYS, the new novel by Ilze Hugo from Skybound Books. We’re very excited to release the amazing cover for this title along with an excerpt!

Dec 2018 — Publishers Weekly — link

Skybound Goes “Down” for Hugo
Mike Braff at Skybound Books, the imprint S&S launched with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman in 2017, took world rights to Ilze Hugo’s debut novel, The Down Days. The South African author was represented by Stacia Decker at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner, who said the magical-realist work “follows a woman who must recover a kidnapped child in a city gripped by a deadly laughter epidemic.”

Nov 2018 — Hollywood Reporter — link

'The Walking Dead' Heads to China With 'Typhoon' Novel (Exclusive)
The Down Days by Ilze Hugo. The South African author’s magical-realist debut follows a woman who must recover a kidnapped child in a city gripped by a deadly laughter epidemic.


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