Wednesday, 12 March 2014

‘Bird Box’ – Josh Malerman (Harper Voyager)

Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news.
But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street.
Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent.
The phones stopped ringing.
And we couldn’t look outside anymore.
Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors.
The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows.
They are out there. She might let them in.
The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall.
Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them.
Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.

Horror fiction and I go way back, back to times when I couldn’t read but would quite happily sit and stare at the gore on the covers (the early eighties was a great time for that). Horror fiction is the big reason I shy away from most Urban Fantasy; an obvious attempt to dumb down and make palatable all the stuff that horror does so well. I love to be scared and then put the book down, safe in the knowledge that it’s not real… Or is it? I’m always looking for my next fix and, as such, it’s great to see a new crop of horror writers slowly come out of the dark places and into the world. Josh Malerman is the latest with ‘Bird Box’ and, despite a couple of rough edges to his work, it’s a book that any fan of the genre absolutely has to pick up. You will read it in one sitting and then close your eyes…

What’s scariest for you, the monster in front of you or the monster that lurks at the corner of your vision, waiting to strike? I’d have to go for the latter; I know what’s in front of me and can deal with it (even if that means running away screaming…) but you never know what’s behind you until it’s far too late. This is part of the reason I prefer to sit with my back to the wall at work but that’s another story… :o)

Josh Malerman has written a book where it’s all about that fear of the unknown. You never see what has caused society to break down so rapidly, only what happens to the people who gaze upon it. That is more than enough to raise the stakes and leave you in no doubt as to why Malorie and her children must be blindfolded for their journey. A journey that would be difficult enough at the best of times becomes almost impossible when you can’t see where you’re going and so ‘Bird Box’ also becomes a book about human determination and doing whatever you can to protect yourself and your children. How far would you go? Would you blind your children so that they literally couldn’t see the threat? These are the questions that Malerman poses and the book becomes all the more compelling as we see Malorie grow into the kind of person who will tackle these questions head on.

But that theme is almost a side note to what ‘Bird Box’ is really about, those nightmares at the edge of your vision. And admit it, you’re reading this review because you like to be scared as well and you’re wondering if ‘Bird Box’ will do it for you as well. Here’s your answer, it will.

I’ll admit that I came into this book thinking that it would be a bit of a tall order to make Malorie’s voluntary blindness a scary thing for the whole of the narrative; I mean, that’s a lot of book to stretch one concept out for. It does feel a little bit stretched at times (especially towards the end) but on the whole, Malerman makes it look incredibly easy. Just ‘hearing’ all those sounds, without actually knowing what they are, put me on edge; it could be anything out there and I ended up pretty much taking that journey with Malorie and her charges. It was nerve-wracking to say the least.
Malerman clearly knows though that there is only so much mileage in this approach (although he cuts it pretty fine) and splits the narrative with flashbacks to what led Malorie to her current situation. The house is full, in these flashbacks, and the dynamic leads to a collapse that is inevitable but still compelling through a considered dismantling of any optimism and Malerman’s finely tuned moments of suspense. It’s amazing what the mind can do to itself when it doesn’t have eyes to rely on; Malerman knows this and uses it to spine-chilling affect.

Apparently the film rights have already been optioned and I’d be interested to see the results given that half of the book is set behind a blindfold. As a book, ‘Bird Box’ does its job and a little bit more besides. I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent horror fiction this year but ‘Bird Box’ is the clear winner so far and it’s hard to see any other book topping it (yes, I know there’s a whole lot of year left but even so…) I had no choice but to finish ‘Bird Box’ in one sitting and I reckon you’ll feel the same.

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