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BOOK REVIEW: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

BOOK REVIEW: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Harper Voyager
April 2014, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

(This title has also been reviewed by Shane, but I’m adding my own review as this was one of my top reads for 2014. – Shane’s review can be found here:
http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201404/51257 )

8/10

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Do you remember what outside looked like the last time you saw it? Did you really take it in?

Did you pay attention to the colours of the clouds at sunset, the green of the grass, the colours of your neighbour’s cars?

Did you notice the blankets over the windows of that house down the street? Did you notice how few people were out and about?

It’s too late now.

If you didn’t notice it then, you’ve missed your chance, because looking outside from now on could send you mad.

You’ve heard it on the news, watched, terrified, with your sister.

You’ve spoken with your friends and your parents on the phone about what’s going on, but they have no more idea than you do. You’ve waited for the news to reveal what’s going on as people the world over withdrew from the outside and shut their eyes. As you did the very same thing.

Something is sending people mad. Something is sending people so mad that they kill themselves, sometimes taking loved ones out on the way.

And you’re never going to be able to look outside again.

 

Bird Box is Malorie’s story told at two different times in her life; the spreading of this phenomenon when she has just discovered she’s pregnant, and over four years later when she is looking after two four year old children she simply refers to as “Boy” and “Girl”.
Names aren’t something you worry about when these are the only people you ever see, when you’re unsure there’s anyone else left in the world.
These chapters alternate, so each switch in time reveals something else that is relevant to the story of the other.


On the one hand we have Malorie and her sister,
just after Malorie became pregnant, watching as the world closes up around them. This is the period of time when not everyone believes the hype, but the ongoing news reports make it hard not to at least take precautions after a while.

There’s the nerve-racking drive to a safe house that Malorie finds an ad for in the newspaper. A slow drive with eyes closed, opening them occasionally to get her bearings, knowing that at any minute she could see the thing that sends her mad and suicidal.

‘Whatever they are,’ Tom says, ‘our minds can’t understand them. They’re like infinity, it seems. Something too complex for us to comprehend, do you see?’


On the other hand, Malorie and her kids are making a break for relative safety
via the river behind the house. A journey that is done completely blind. They will have their blindfolds on and are told not to remove them under any circumstances. Malorie hasn’t opened her eyes outside in over four years, and her children have been taught not to their whole lives.

As babies she trained them to wake with their eyes closed. Standing above their chicken wire beds, flyswatter in hand, she’d wait. As each woke and opened their eyes, she would smack them hard on the arm. They would cry. Malorie would reach down and close their eyes with her fingers. If they kept their eyes closed, she would lift her shirt and feed them. Reward.

You really understand how afraid Malorie has been, these past four years, when you see how much she has gone through for these babies, and how she would respond if they happened to disobey her and send themselves mad.

Malorie knows that if the children were to remove their blindfolds, if they were to scream before going mad, she still would not open her eyes.

 

The whole premise of this story is just incredibly creepy. There’s a something we can’t ever look at. These somethings don’t make a sound, they may not be able to, and they may be watching you as you stumble around with your eyes closed. They may be following you, waiting for you to lose your nerve. Heck, you might be surrounded by a whole crowd of them right now.

In her private darkness, she understood a creature could be sitting at the bar beside her. Possibly the place was full of them. Three per table. Watching her silently. Observing the broken, blindfolded woman and her seeing eye dog.

So long as you don’t look at them, you won’t go mad. But that’s like being told that you’re being stalked by an angry spirit and that you’re not allowed to turn on the light.

 

A couple of things bothered me about this book:

• The news suggested, incredibly quickly, that this homicidal phenomenon was a result of a person seeing something. There were only a few reports by this stage, and, considering that a lot of the people who saw the something killed those nearest and dearest to them, I fail to see how this became the answer so. very. quickly.

• At one point they go searching for dogs left abandoned or locked inside when their owners lost their minds, and they gain the trust of these dogs by giving them RAW MEAT.
Up until that point in the novel, the survivors had been living off canned goods they had managed to stockpile before the shit really hit the fan. There are many mentions of how everyone looks skinny and underfed, and like they haven’t been getting all the nutrients a full diet would give.
There are MANY mentions of eating canned fruit, not a single mention of meat, raw or otherwise. I understand that they could have meat in the freezer, due to their luck at holing up in a hydro powered house, but surely this would have been consumed in the five months they’ve been trapped there, rather than being kept on hand in case they needed to win the favour of abandoned dogs?

• The titular “bird box”, which two of the survivors discover while out and about looking for supplies and dogs. They hang it on the porch as an early warning system, because the birds get louder when people approach them.
The thing that sat weirdly about this for me was that the box is described as closed in, so much so that the survivors don’t know what’s in there until the people who found it explain. So you clearly can’t see the birds, and the birds mustn’t have a clear view of the world outside the box, yet they get louder when people get closer.
I would have preferred more of an explanation of this. Do they see through holes in the box? Do they feel the warmth of a person, sense the movement in the air, SMELL a person approaching?

• When Malorie is thinking about something, battling with herself on something, her thoughts refer to her as “you”. I was having a hard time putting a finger on why this felt so wrong for me, until a friend suggested it’s “like she has an angel and devil on her shoulders, battling for her soul” this is spot on what bothered me about it, and I felt like this could have been handled better.

 

But, when I managed to look past those things, the creepiness was well done, as was the being unable to see what was going on because the characters were unable to see.

It’s a story about banding together and surviving, about group dynamics and how things can drastically change those dynamics as the world disappears around you. It’s a story that gives us insight into how we would deal if something so very integral (to a lot of us) was taken away.

It’s a thriller that gives us a scare that hasn’t been done to death already, and which we can experiment with, stumbling blindly down our own driveway. Something that is a lot harder to do with zombies.

I have no doubt that I would likely be long mad and dead in Malorie’s world, because I wouldn’t be able to live with not knowing WHAT they were. Even now, I think that unanswered question might send me mad.

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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  1. […] sounds like it might have some of the same elements as Bird Box, with, of course, a decent helping of The Stand, and supposedly a little Clive Barker and Neil […]

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