So as you’ll know, our first choice for Debut Book of the Month is BIRDBOX by Josh Malerman (published by Harper Voyager). I did worry it’d be a struggle to find time for non-work reading in amongst our huge submission pile, but luckily I was enjoying the book too much to notice!
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The review is below, but in the meantime please do suggest to us via Twitter or Facebook what we should pick next. I’ll be shopping over the weekend, so any and all recommendations welcome – just remember it has to be a debut, and it really needs to have come out in the last few months.
BIRDBOX is a really gripping horror/thriller novel. The main character is a woman called Malorie, and it’s told in two different timelines – in the earlier one she is pregnant and living with her sister when news reports begin to emerge of a spate of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia. Predictably, the trend soon crosses over to the United States where we lay our scene, and it soon becomes clear that the link between the incidents is that those affected have seen something which drives them to lose their minds.
Cut to five or so years later, and Malorie is living with her two children – she’s called them Girl and Boy, since they have never encountered another human being. They’re trapped in a house which they cannot leave without wearing blindfolds; indeed, the two children have never seen the outside world, and have instead been trained by their mother to have an incredible sense of hearing – their only defence against what’s outside. As the story begins, Malorie takes the decision to leave the house and head for the promise of a safer settlement. However the journey is some miles, and they’ll have to do it blindfolded…
What’s brilliant about this book is the concept. Not being able to open your eyes is such a clever reversal of the standard trope of not being able to see your attacker, and the claustrophobia of the blindfolded sections is so effective. Also, the idea of your loved ones being constantly one misdirected look away from madness and violent suicide is somehow more terrifying than a more active threat.
The novel isn’t without it’s gory moments – one memorable moment involves stumbling through an abandoned house and finding two mysterious ball-shaped objects on the table – only after a moment to we realise these are the gorged-out eyes of the corpse that’s sat on a nearby chair. But most significantly the appeal is in the tension – especially as Malorie makes friends in the earlier narrative – friends who we know do not survive to meet her children.
As ever with this kind of book, the key is the ending – it’s far easier to create tension with an off-stage threat than to bring a horrifying monster into the open. I won’t ruin it, but I’d say Bird Box beats most of its peers, even if I wasn’t totally won over – if you’re looking for a full explanation you might be disappointed, but I’m definitely in favour of too-vague over too-obvious, and in that sense I think this works well.
Overall, if you’re looking for a slow-burning chiller this book is perfect for you. It’s not quite sleep-with-the-lights-on scary, but it’ll stay with you after you finish, and I’d certainly give it the Twenty7 Books seal of approval!