Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Hardcover, 262 pages

Published May 2014 by Ecco

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2014)

Shirley Jackson Award Nominee for Novel (2014)

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2014)

James Herbert Award Nominee (2015)

This is Horror Award for Novel (2014)

I admit I was a little afraid to read this one, and had it in the mental TBR pile for almost two years. At the 2014 world horror convention there was alot of buzz for Bird Box that was nominated for best first novel. look at that list of awards. Could this book really be that good?

To put it simply yes Bird Box is worthy of all of the hyperbole it has gotten. I have not sat down to make my top ten list of books that I read this year but Bird Box will be somewhere on that list. Interestingly enough this novel is alot like my number one novel from last year the Silence by Tim Lebbon. The two novels are similar in so many aspects it is almost impossible for me not to compare and contrast them through out this review. Let me focus on Malerman's novel and I'll swing back to The Silence.

Bird Box is one of the strongest most frightening horror novels I have read this year, and it is built on a high concept. The execution with a non-linear plot structure is so well done it is hard to believe this was the novel of a first time writer. The first 50 pages are almost impossible to put down. I went into the novel completely blind (pun intended) and I believe my enjoyment of the novel was boosted by that. So this is your last warning before I discuss the plot and events of the novel. I would go into this novel and not even read the dust jacket.

The novel opens with Malorie a young mother making the hard decision to leave the safety of her home and venture out into the world with her two four year old children. She insists that they wear a blindfold and not even peek at the outside world as they stumble their way to a boat and try to make it up the river. Instantly Malerman creates an intense mystery and misdirects the reader. Having not read anything about the plot I assumed the young mother was crazy and had sheltered twin children from the world. I assumed it was all in her mind and this was the story of abused children. I didn't suspect a global end of the world story at all.

The novel is written with a structure I love with the "story present" and "Story Past" taking chapter by chapter turns thus making Bird box a textbook example of obstacles and parallels throughout. The story builds tension of through parallel tracks, the story and character develops perfectly in story past because we know where things are going.

The moments of terror was so well down because Malerman builds off the paranoid thoughts and behavior of the survivors and we can feel and understand their fear. You see in this end of the world something, we don't know what is driving people crazy. It drives them insane with a the very sight of it. What it is we don't know, they don't know. Is it sunlight? is it a monster. The survivors only know they can't look, they hide inside and only go outside with blindfolds.

Reading this novel you really come to feel the safety that the blindfolds bring the characters and even moments where the characters were feeling light through the blindfold created tension. There is a moment when the blinds are pulled off a window that provided one of the best moments of terror expressed on the page that I have seen in a long time. Trapped in the home in the "story past" Malorie faces giving birth cut off from the world, while exploring human dynamics that writers have explored in these stories since Romero's Night of the Living Dead. in this aspect Malerman finds a way to make that fresh and doesn't waste time. This over took and ruined Joe Hill's The Fireman, which forgot the concept for stretches and got lost over doing the human dynamic.

So that brings me back to the The Silence by Tim Lebbon. Yes they are different Lebbon's novel is a straight up monster novel that uses the family unit as the basis for much of the suspense. The concept of the Silence was that the characters had to be as quiet as possible as the slightest noise would attract the attention of the monsters who would swoop in and eat you. While not that close these novels came out around the same time and I loved both for the high concept end of the world. One is about sound and the other is about sight.

Both are fantastic novels, and I might give the slight edge to Lebbon's The Silence, despite the massive support and love that Bird Box received. Lets just focus on Bird Box here. It is a masterpiece. A fantastic debut that should fill Malerman with anxiety in the sense that I would not want to have to follow this up. Ha-ha. Here is hoping he does, I am rooting for him.

This novel is everything I wanted in Joe Hill's the fireman, high concept end of the world this time written with focus and no fat.

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