Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

“In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for?” – Bird Box

I initially started seeing Bird Box around the bookstagram-phere (not a thing, you say? Well, it is now. I just made it up) quite a few months ago. I think it was a Book of the Month book back in the spring and maybe that’s why so many people seemed to be getting their hands on it, but I still held off. However, when I recently heard that it was being made into a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Machine Gun Kelly (my FAVE), I was totally over the moon and knew I had to read the book right away so that I could watch the movie when it’s released without betraying my own book-before-the-movie rule.

And I am so glad I did.

For those of you who don’t know, Bird Box, by Josh Malerman, is a horror novel set in a sort of post-apocalyptic/post-breakdown of society version of our own world. In this version of the world, there is something—no one knows exactly what, but most theorize it is some sort of creature—in the world, and anyone who sees one of these mysterious creatures goes insane and kills everyone around them before killing themselves (usually in some graphic, disgusting method). As sightings of the creature and the ensuing madness begin to spread across the world and take more and more lives, society breaks down. People can no longer go outside without blindfolds. Most of the population is destroyed. Electricity, water, and food are scarce. There is almost no means of communication available.

Amongst all this, our main character, Malorie, discovers she is pregnant. After the death of her sister, Malorie finds herself alone and joins a group of survivors living together in a house and adapting to the new world by surviving off canned food, developing methods for retrieving water without being able to see what they’re doing, and developing means of defending themselves.

“It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.” – Bird Box

The novel flashes back and forth between the present and the past. In the present, Malorie has already given birth and her two children, called only Boy and Girl, are four years old, and the three of them embark on a journey rowing down the river in an attempt to reach a commune where they might be able to live a better life—relying only on their hearing to keep them safe on their journey, as they must travel blind. In the past chapters, we get to see Malorie’s journey as she first joins up with the house of survivors, learn more about the breakdown of society, and see how Mallory came to the point she is at now, where only she, Boy, and Girl remain.

There are a lot of things to like about this novel—nearly everything, really—but by far my favorite was the setting. If you know me at all, you know I am a major sucker for anything post-apocalyptic or post-breakdown of society. It’s just one of the most interesting types of settings to learn about and explore, and I love seeing different authors’ and artists’ interpretations and imaginings of it. Malerman does an excellent job of painting the picture of a modern society which has frayed irreparably at the seams, and the way people’s lives have changed as they have been forced to regress and to rely only the bare necessities. One of the best things about this interpretation of the setting and this type of horror is that it doesn’t require a lot of suspension of disbelief. With the exception of the mysterious creatures, all of this is the sort of thing that I could really see happening. Even the creatures become more believable—or perhaps more open to interpretation—as the story progresses. I think the fact that you don’t have to suspend your disbelief very much is one of the reasons this novel is so successful in terms of being scary. It’s easy to put yourself in this situation and easy to imagine how terrifying it would be.

This is one of the other things I really loved about this novel—it’s legitimately really scary. In my opinion, this is horror at its finest. I was honestly nervous when reading this, and found my heart rate rising as I read about Malorie’s predicament and her terrifying moments of making her way through the world blind and hoping for the best. This is the kind of novel that makes you look over your shoulder—and then makes you grateful that you’re able to look over your shoulder because you don’t live in a world where simply seeing something could drive you to madness. The concept that something so simple that we do every single day without even thinking about it could totally destroy our humanity is terrifying. This isn’t the type of horror that’s specific to one person—you aren’t destroyed by drinking coffee or going for a run. You’re destroyed by seeing. Just looking at the outside world. I probably don’t have to tell you this—but I will—but the complete vulnerability that goes along with that is what makes the whole scenario so horrific. In a world full of jump scares and people who think that gross=scary, it’s refreshing to encounter this kind of cerebral horror that can really get your heart and your mind racing.

Literally me while reading this book.

I also really enjoyed the fact that it flashes back and forth between the present and the past, because when I initially read the description of the book, it only details the portion where Malorie and her children make their journey down the river without the luxury of their sight to guide them. While portions of this are quite suspenseful, it isn’t enough to buoy the story on its own. Their journey, however, combined with the backstory and the details about how society operates and how people get through their day to day lives is not just enough to move the story along, but also enough to have me wondering what comes next.

No book is flawless (though I like to believe some of my faves come close), but it’s not easy to find fault with Bird Box. My biggest complaint, of course, is that Malerman commits the cardinal sin in my own personal horror bible: he kills the dog.

Literally as soon as I learned that one of the characters has a dog, I thought to myself, great. That dog is totally going to get it. There’s just no way we are making it through a horror novel with this concept without the dog ending up looking at the mysterious creature and going berserk.

And of course, we didn’t.

Y’all know I hate it when the dog gets killed off. I’d much rather the creators just don’t include a dog at all. Like I get it, if something happens to the dog it’s basically the absolute worst it could be, and it’s a good way to convey the severity of the situation. But come on. They’re the purest of heart, most adorable little furballs on the planet. Let’s just leave them be, mmkay?

 

 

The only other slight flaw or slightly negative aspect of the book was the fact that once Malorie moved into the house, we were introduced to quite a few characters very quickly and it would have been cool if each of them had had a little more development. At some points, especially when we first meet them, it can get a bit jumbled and easy to confuse who’s who until we get some distinguishing factors and people start behaving differently. But really, this is the tiniest, most minor complaint, and I can completely see why the author did it this way. There wasn’t really enough time for a lot of individual character development, nor was it entirely necessary in order to move the story forward. But it would have been interesting if we had gotten a few more back stories besides just Malorie’s and Tom’s, or more details about the back story.

Of course, I also have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that this could just be me being greedy because the book was so good that I would have loved to have more!

All in all, this was a truly excellent horror novel and I highly recommend it to any true fans of horror and suspense. I’ve heard some people criticize Bird Box as being “boring”, “slow”, or “not scary enough”, and while I can, to some extent, see where they’re coming from, I think the issue is that they were looking for something entirely different. So I’ll just say this—if you’re looking for jump scares/cheap scares or bloody, disgusting gore or freakish mutilations as your idea of horror, Bird Box will not give you that. As previously mentioned, the horror in this novel is much more cerebral and understated, focused not on grossing you out but on examining the vulnerability of humanity and the tough choices we’d be faced with in some of the ultimate worst case scenarios.

I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much, I rated it one of the best books I read in 2017. I give it five out of five stars—and I can’t wait to see the film adaptation!

What about everyone else? Have you read Bird Box? (By the way, yes, there is an answer to why it is called Bird Box.) What did you think of it? Have you read any other awesome horror novels lately? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3

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