Monday 17 March 2014

Bird Box - Josh Malerman
It's difficult to explain my feelings about this particular book. On one hand I thought it was an original and well thought out story with some genuinely spooky moments. On the other there were several scenes and characters that I felt could have had so much more to them, and having finished the whole thing I was left feeling unsatisfied.
The concept is relatively simple. Something, some creature, some event, some miasma in the air is making people go mad. Not rocking back and forward in a corner mad, but full blown tear your loved ones limb from limb and then scoop your own eyes out with a melon-baller mad. Once the madness hits there is always violence ending in murder and eventual suicide. No one knows exactly what causes this insanity because no one has seen the cause and stayed sane long enough to give any kind of testament as to what they have seen; the only thing that anyone knows is that if you see what ever it is, then you instantly go violently crazy and kill.
Obviously this has led to hysteria, presumably world wide as the madness spreads from Russia and into the US. Those who can cover their windows and stay inside, any trips outside involve blindfolds and closed eyes.
The story follows two time lines for Malorie; the first starts just as news of the crisis is starting to break from Russia at this point she is living with her sister and has just discovered she is pregnant. The second time line is set almost five years into the crisis, and follows Malorie's attempts to escape with two young children from the house that they have been living in for the past four and a half years. The two time lines are tightly interwoven with flashbacks giving meaning to Malorie's actions in the later scenes. We learn about the group that helped Malorie after events ran out of control on American soil, and the reasons why she has spent the last four years on her own with the children.
There are some absolutely vile moments, scenes of brutality and of the aftermath of terrible violence, these are made worse by being viewed only obliquely. Several of the worst moments are only experiences through the sense of touch due to the need to keep ones eyes closed at all times. This sense of something unspeakable that you can smell, feel and sometimes hear but never see does give a depth to the story that would be lacking if more visual descriptions were given. There are rumours that film rights for this book have been obtained already, and it will be interesting to see how a visual medium will cope with building the sense of unease and decay without using visuals. I have the idea that it will end up looking very similar to Blair Witch in many ways.
My main issue with the book stems from the lack of any form of closure. I can cope with not really knowing what the 'creatures' are that are causing this madness, in fact I don't know that the author could possibly come up with a satisfactory explanation for what they are or for their motivation. Far better that this is left to the reader's imagination. There are a few too many loose ends for my liking though, a few too many moments where some form of explanation seems to be required and yet is absent. My biggest niggle of all is related to the safe haven that Malorie is trying to reach by river. Although I understand one of the obvious reasons why they would have been spared the horrors (am trying SO hard no avoid spoilers right now!) I would have liked the book to have continued just for another chapter or so, just long enough to give us a complete explanation. As it was it seemed as though the story just abruptly stopped. I have to say that I found this just a little irritating which is a shame as my overall impression of the book is positive. It manages to be atmospheric and unpleasantly visceral at times, which is what you want from a book of this genre, I just would have liked there to have been more philosophy and a stronger conclusion to tie it all up and balance the overall story.

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