I am a little embarrassed to admit that until recently I had never read anything by Josh Malerman. I’d heard great things about his books and decided that it was about time I stopped messing around and immersed myself in his works.
Well, that was a positive decision, because Bird Box was quite simply great.
The best horror, so they say, is when you have to make up your own mind about the terror that is threatening the characters. I love monsters and zombies, etc. but this book is something much more than all that. The reader’s imagination is more gruesome and terrifying than any words an author could put on the page.
A plague has swept the nation, people are turned from normal, everyday humans into bloodthirsty, murderous bastards. There are news reports of terrible killings followed by suicides by the perpetrators. It seems to be getting more widespread and before long, everyone is panicking.
But what has turned everyone into these murdering monsters? Well no one knows, all we have to go on is that it’s something they saw.
The novel follows Malorie and her two kids as they try to survive in this new world. And how do they do that? They avoid looking at anything outside, of course. Windows are covered and blindfolds are worn whenever they venture outside. It seems quite an extreme reaction, but the strength of the prose really has you believing that they’re doing exactly the right thing. Even when Malorie goes seemingly a bit bitch-over-the-top at the kids, you never think she’s going a bit too far. It’s necessary behaviour given the circumstances.
Another thing that really impressed me was the timelines of the story. We jump from present day where Malorie decides it is time for them to leave the house and travel along the river (blindfolded, of course) to somewhere she thinks they will be safe, to four years earlier when Malorie was pregnant, and back again. There are also brief snapshots of her and her sister when the outbreak began.
During her pregnancy, Malorie ventured to the address in an ad and found other survivors hiding out in a house. Their precautions are just as meticulous and again, this seems like exactly the right move. In fact, this is where Malorie learnt how to survive in this new society. As in any house share, especially a post-apocalyptic one, tensions run high. There’re arguments aplenty as the housemates realise they have to do something, otherwise they’re just going to die in this house like caged animals.
What drives this book is not the plot as such, but the mood and the tension. This is rife in both the present day as Malorie rows along the river using her children’s highly tuned ears as a guide, and in the refuge house. Throughout the story there is that unnerving fog hanging over each and every action of the characters.
So what is it that people see that sends them all insane and murdery? Well you’ll have to read it to find out, maybe. Each time someone braves the outside world, the narrative relies on the sounds, smells, and feelings, instead of vividly describing exactly what the evil terror is or looks like. This was expertly done. I really wanted to know just what was outside, but on the other hand I really didn’t.
This is the part when I say it certainly won’t be my last Josh Malerman book and all the other cliches. But they are warranted. This book creeped me out, and that is just what I was looking for.
Categories: book review