Josh Malerman’s Bird Box was on my TBR for ages, and I had the best of intentions of reading it for a good scare in October, but it just didn’t happen. When I saw that the film adaptation is coming to Netflix on December 21st, I knew I couldn’t put it off until next October, so here I am. Reviewing the book and eagerly anticipating the movie.
About the book: Malorie discovers she is pregnant, just as the world as she knew it grinds to a halt. All over the world, there are news reports of people going inexplicably mad, harming those around them and themselves. No one is sure about the cause of this colossal problem, but gradually they learn about mysterious creatures that are dangerous to look at. The people that are left at that point barricade themselves indoors, blacking their windows and wearing blindfolds for even the shortest trips outdoors. Malorie joins other survivors in a safe house, where she spends years adapting to the new world order and trying to find a better situation for her new babies– which necessitates venturing out into the unknown.
“Nobody has answers. Nobody knows what is going on. People are seeing something that drives them to hurt others. To hurt themselves. People are dying. Buy why?”
First off, I loved the psychological aspects to this story. For a book that involves a lot of voluntary blindness, Malerman works a lot of very visual and vivid details into Bird Box. Though I did find the writing itself a bit emotionless and unexciting, the concepts are strong enough that I was engaged in the story even when I had a sense of detachment from the characters. Even though I didn’t feel Malorie’s tension in certain circumstances, the ideas inspired my own underlying horror. I could imagine what it would be like to walk in Malorie’s shoes, and those were compellingly awful prospects.
“The moment between deciding to open your eyes and then actually doing it is as scary a thing as there is in the new world.”
There is so much room for ambiguity in Bird Box, considering the fact that the survivors can never see these creatures. Some don’t believe the creatures actually exist. Some believe the horror is in the form they take, others believe it is a flaw in the human mind that causes such an extreme reaction to them. The characters hear noises or sense a presence, but they can never be sure what is happening right beside them. There are theories and disagreements, and Malerman does an excellent job of answering the questions that need to be and leaving other possibilities vague. I will say though that I was somewhat disappointed that there seemed to be no ambiguity about the book’s ending; madness, especially after Malerman shows how it has affected a *certain* character, can be a very ambiguous concept in a novel, and I wished he had taken it a step further than he did. But none of the details Malerman provides are to the detriment of the story.
I think my only real hindrance with Bird Box came in the fact that I was a bit overhyped for it. I opened to the first page a little worried that I had elected to read by lamplight at night after the rest of the house was asleep, but even though the suspense builds and builds, the story never quite took my breath away. Perhaps the fact that the creatures don’t seem do anything but show themselves to humans made reading about them less suspenseful? Malorie was so determined not to look, and it seemed like as long as she held on to that conviction there was nothing to worry about.
But Bird Box seems written specifically for film adaptation– there were so many scenes that I could just see, that will probably be perfect in a visual setting. I’m definitely curious to see how this will translate to the screen, because so much of the visualization is up to the reader in the book (obviously)– even the main characters do not actually see a lot of what’s going on to describe it to the reader, leaving even more up to the imagination than a novel usually does. It’s incredible to see how well Malerman manages to help the characters and the reader internalize something that is physically present in the world, and I don’t think the movie will be able to convey that in the same way. I’m so curious to see how the movie will be different, and discover which format works better for me. Stay tuned for the Book-to-Film section of my December wrap-up to find out.
“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I would absolutely read another Josh Malerman book; I’m particularly looking forward to his upcoming release, Inspection, expected to hit shelves in April 2019. I wish I had been able to read Bird Box back in October, but I love a good scare enough that I really should allow myself to read more horror without waiting for Halloween.
- Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is a sci-fi thriller with some strong psychological thrills that I think fans of Bird Box would enjoy. Though the monsters of Dark Matter are much more human, the twists are fantastic, and the world feels just as frighteningly real. This is a what-if story about the paths not taken.
- Michael Rutger’s The Anomaly is another thriller with a supernatural bent, and this one does feature some creepy creatures along with the psychological aspects. In this book, a group of documentary filmers overnights in the Grand Canyon, seeking a secret cave– that they get stuck in, when weird things start happening.
- It by Stephen King. Though the monster in this story often appears as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, it’s much scarier than a man in face paint and funny clothes. This creature preys on children in a Maine town where the adults look the other way when disaster strikes, and it’s up to the Losers Club to face the thing everyone fears. This is a long book, but absolutely worth the time.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?
The Literary Elephant