Pros: Amazing tension!
Cons: Highly internal (won’t work for some)
Rating: 5 out of 5
I recently saw some ads for the movie version of Josh Malerman’s Bird Box: A Novel, and they didn’t convince me. But then a friend recommended the book, and so far her recommendations have been great, so I decided to give it a read. I’m glad I listened (thanks Nancy)! Malorie lives in a house where the windows are covered with blankets and the only way she or her two four-year-old children can go out to the well is to blindfold themselves. It’s a little confusing at first. As the narrative weaves back and forth between the present and the past, things gradually become clearer. There’s something loose in the world, and anyone who sees it goes mad. They may or may not harm others, but they very quickly kill themselves. Given how difficult it is to go without looking outside, and how prevalent these… whatever they are… seem to be, the world is soon a very empty place. Pregnant Malorie managed to make her way to a “safehouse” with a handful of people living there who had a few months’ worth of supplies stored up. We go back and forth between present-day Malorie taking a trip down a river in a rowboat with her two children–all blindfolded–and past Malorie leading up to her labor and delivery.
Some of the survival details are kind of elided. It’s probably about the right time for this to happen; so many books have examined the survival part of post-apocalyptic fiction that it’s reasonable to see the details shortened. We see just enough (Malorie figuring out how to drive a car with the windows painted black!) to get the idea of how it was done without needing the day-to-day. It does require a little bit of willing suspension of disbelief, naturally.
I should provide a trigger warning for childhood abuse. What Malorie does in raising her children is arguably entirely necessary, but that doesn’t make it easy to read about. She has to train them from birth in survival in this crazy world. All it could take is a single peek out of a window to ruin everything.
The narrative is in the present tense and is exceedingly internal. Because of this, there will probably be some people who can’t get into it. I wasn’t wholly certain at first, but I quickly got swept up and once I did, I couldn’t put the book down. There’s often a staccato feel to the sentences that completely ratchets up the tension.
I’m still dubious about this as a movie. The most tense parts of the book happen when the characters are blindfolded, and you know there might be something weird out there, but there’s no way of knowing what it is, and you cannot look. Whereas a movie requires the visual. Maybe I’ll watch it at some point just to find out whether they found a way around that.
As a small note, I appreciate the fact that even though there are three women in the house of people, the author never felt the need to pair any of them off with the men. He also completely avoided the rival stereotype that has so annoyed me of late, and which would have been easy to fall into here.
If you’re looking for something totally tense and mind-bending, absolutely give Bird Box a read!