Some aspects of Bird Box remind me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: an apocalyptic situation in which an adult protagonist must undertake a perilous journey, over which the protection of a child (or two) becomes paramount. It’s a neat trick; the vulnerability of children heightens the stakes – the protagonist simply must survive or the little dears won’t. But with a tale as dark as this, there’s no guarantee anyone will survive. The reader, then, is tossed into an emotional investment that threatens to have no mercy.
I read McCarthy’s novel with my heart in my mouth throughout, sometimes a little scared to continue reading in case the kid ‘bought it’. I can’t say the same of Bird Box , largely because the beginning, whilst unsettling, doesn’t make immediate sense until you’re some way in. In fact, the beginning is a good deal better once you’ve read the whole.
So, No 5 Star Rating, Then?
Well… er, actually…
You may wonder why I’ve given it 5 of my precious stars? Well, in honesty, my initial rating for the first third of this book was a mediocre 3. However, from thereon in, the edge sharpens like a slowly whetted knife, a grind against the psychological tensions between diverse characters who are compelled to inhabit the same space for an unknowable length of time. They are brought together through a fear of the outside – or rather, that which awaits them outside – upon which they can never look. Sightedness threatens safety in Malerman’s book, deepening the potential for tricks of the mind and paranoia, which infuses the outward threat.
From midway on, the climatic curve steepens and who would have thought, from that beginning, I’d find myself heading towards its summit unreasonably nervy, jumping at every sound a settling house makes at nighttime ( damn that cat in the litter tray! ). For Malerman is in his stride by this point and the tension is truly relentless. The latter stages of this book altered my rating of it entirely, for not only did it grip me to the end, but even moved me to tears at its conclusion. For this alone, a deserved 5 stars.
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