Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.
Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing
And we couldn’t look outside anymore.
I was first introduced to Josh Malerman’s work when I read his novella, A House at the Bottom of a Lake (my review for which you can check out here). While I found the premise of that story to be interesting and chilling, I found the novella’s conclusion to be somewhat underwhelming. Nonetheless, I’d had my eye on Bird Box for a while and was lucky enough to spy it in a charity shop for a measly £1! Reading makes me feel good anyway but what makes me feel even better is when my purse doesn’t take a hit as a result of my reading habit. Before I get into the review, I will say this…I thoroughly enjoyed Bird Box , to the extent where I devoured it in a mere three days (which is unheard of for me, aka The World’s Slowest Reading Book Blogger). Much like we don’t always enjoy every single album by our favourite band, we don’t always necessarily enjoy every single book an author has written so don’t give up on an author after just one book!
We take the world around us for granted. We lie on the grass in our gardens on summer days, laughing as we point out silly shapes in the clouds. We watch the sun set, barely noticing the beautiful oranges and pinks bleeding into the canvas of the darkening sky, so accustomed we’ve become to the Sun’s daily ritual. We witness spring-time flowers coming into bloom, their brightly coloured heads dancing in the breeze and barely give them a second glance; they do it every year, what’s so special about such an act?
But…what if these seemingly trivial sights could suddenly cost you your sanity, your life and the lives of those closest to you? Would you regret never having taken a moment to stand at the window and marvel at colours no human hand can replicate splashed across the sky? Would you regret having never taken a few minutes to sit on a bench in a park and simply watch those flowers celebrate the arrival of Spring?
This dark and lonely world is the world in which Malorie, along with her two children, exist.
And that’s all it is. An existence. Her children, who she refers to as simply Boy and Girl, have never seen the outside world. Their world is a darkened house with boarded up, blanket-covered windows and faded blood stains marring the floors, a painful memory attached to each one. It may initially strike a reader strange that Malorie has refused to name her children, but what about this world would compel her to? To name something is to humanise it and to humanise something is to attach meaning to it. It’s plausible to assume that Malorie fears naming them lest such an act induces feelings of love, a daunting emotion in a world that can destroy those loved ones in seconds. By not naming her children, Malorie remains somewhat detached and remaining detached means she can train them, as you would perhaps train dogs, to be her ears in a world in which you have to be blind to remain alive.
The entire book is written in present tense and I will be honest, I’m not normally a massive fan of this. However, it works really well with Bird Box. It gives it a sense of immediacy for a reader, making them feel as though they themselves are Malorie, experiencing all her anguish and frustration in real time. In present tense, there is no time for fancy metaphors or wordy descriptions. Bird Box is fast paced, delivering each line in a matter-of-fact manner. It almost creates a sense of detachment from the horrific things that Malorie experiences, almost as though it is being normalised. Why go into graphic detail about the gruesome manner in which someone has killed themselves (two words: George’s death) when you’ve heard it all before, from your housemates, through the TV and over the radio? The seeming normality of these events after a few months is one of the most terrifying aspects of the novel.
On a final note, I think one of my absolute favourite things about this novel is the fact that it’s never revealed what exactly the creatures existing beyond the shuttered windows are and what their purpose is. Do they want to destroy humanity? What are they? Where did they come from? Some of the characters theorise that they drive those who gaze upon them murderously insane because they’re beyond human comprehension. Olympia, moments before her suicide, tells the creature that it’s “beautiful”. We’ve all seen things that we’d describe as beautiful but beautiful enough to drive us insane? It really must be beyond human comprehension. Or, as another character suggested, although the creatures are real, perhaps people are only driven insane because they expect to be driven insane after all the previous reports they’ve heard. Is it simply a case of mass hysteria? The questions remain unanswered and while some readers might feel cheated, I feel that in the case of Bird Box, less really is more.
Have you read Bird Box? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Korn – Mass Hysteria
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