First published in March of 2014, British author Josh Malerman’s debut novel ‘Bird Box’ tied together a deeply unnerving horror premise within a powerfully emotive post-apocalyptic premise.

DLS Synopsis:
At first it was just a worry that seemed far off from their own lives.  Dubbed ‘The Russia Report’ by the media; strange scenes of escalating violence and seemingly random acts of suicide had been sprouting up around Russia.  There seemed to be no common factor linking these brutal acts of violence together.  But it was obvious by the mounting reports across the news, that the frequency of these incidents was escalating by the day.

And then, as if from out of nowhere, whatever was happening was out on their own streets.  All of a sudden it was real and affecting their own lives.  And in one fell swoop, it had stripped away everyone’s basic freedom.  Life had suddenly become very detained.  Very confined.  Very alone.

No one knew exactly what was causing it.  But it had generally been accepted that there was something out on the streets, some unknown creatures, which were causing this to happen.  Anyone who laid eyes on them was sent insane.  Those who saw these creatures were driven to perform senseless acts of murderous violence on anyone around them before ending their own life.

There was only one option left for those who had survived this far.  They would have to lock themselves away in their homes, with all windows and doors blocked out with thick blankets.  And they would have to hide away.  Only ever leaving the relative safety of their hastily secured homes when absolutely necessary.  Never once leaving their homes with their eyes open to the world.  The pitch blackness of blindfolds had replaced everyone’s vision of the outside world.  Never again would they see the sun, the sky, or the bright colours of the world.

For Malorie, when her sister, Shannon, killed herself in their house, she knew she had to get away.  She had to find others.  She needed the relative safety in numbers.  After all, it wasn’t just her own safety that was at stake.  Being pregnant and alone, someday in the not-too-distant-future she would need to rely on others.  And so she leaves her home and sets off for the commune which had been advertised in the local newspaper as somewhere for people to go.  Opening her eyes as infrquently as she could whilst she drove the few miles to the house, Malorie had put her entire life in the hope that there would still be someone to take her in.

And lucky, there was someone there.  A group of survivors who would agree to let her in.  Let her join them in these nightmarish days where life is confined to the inside of the one house they live within.  Although there is still electricity being supplied, their existence is nevertheless a gloomy and darkened one.  Devoid of the substance of the world around them.  Living in constant fear.  Constantly hiding.  Constantly listening.  Constantly fearing.

And over time Malorie begins to see the house as one big bird box.  The world confined to one cardboard box.  Like with the one that houses the birds outside.  Birds that they put there to help warn them.  Boxed in.  Forever…


DLS Review:
I have to start off this review by saying how utterly compelling this novel is.  Not since David Moody’s debut ‘Straight To You’ (1996) has a post-apocalyptic novel engaged me to the degree that Josh Malerman’s debut has. The novel offers a deeply emotional journey, through a nightmarishly confined existence, that is all shown through a powerfully ‘human’ perspective.

The novel is structured by interweaving simultaneously running storylines from the past and present; told through the perspective of the principal character, Malorie.  And in Malorie the reader is given a character who embodies someone who is very real.  A character who connects with the reader, drawing strong bonds and a very palpable sympathy.  And through this beautifully established connection the real beating heart of the novel is able to build up a tale that will transport the reader into a monumentally claustrophobic and downright unnerving new world.

The post-apocalyptic premise for the story is established reasonably quickly from early on.  Within a matter of a handful of short chapters, the world as we know it has been turned inside-out, and it’s pretty much every man for himself.  And within the hellish madness, Malorie manages to pull on enough strength to exit her current safe haven and make her way out into the unknown.

With obvious similarities to the likes of John Wyndham’s ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (1951) or indeed José Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ (1995), there’s a certain element of familiar ground within the main premise of the tale.  However, what Malerman has done, is take his story down a far more introspective route – drawing the reader into the tightly confined cage of a close-quartered existence.

Yes, there are moments where Malerman is obviously going out of his way to pull on the readers’ heartstrings.  Time and time again these moments crop up.  And Malerman executes these powerfully emotive scenes with the absolute skill of an equally emotionally attached storyteller.

Malerman purposefully keeps a great deal of what is out there hidden from the reader.  The creatures that have torn the world out from under us are never seen.  We know they exist.  Their presence is always lurking there; creating an oppressive state of constant fear.  And in never once revealing the creatures for what they are, Malerman maintains the worst possible threat.  Something that is beyond the reach of your own imagining.  Something that, should it be revealed, would send you violently insane.

The ending for the novel is as breath-taking and fitting as the rest of the tale has been.  Reading the final few chapters, it’s nigh on impossible not to have goose bumps tingling across your arms as everything is brought to that one final moment. Quite simply, Malerman delivers a truly incredible ending to an absolutely stunning novel.  One where there is that smallest glimmer of light in a world of complete darkness.

This is one that no one should miss.  So far, the absolute highlight of 2014.

The novel runs for a total of 232 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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