Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Bird Box Bird Box
by Josh Malerman
Harper Collins

Supplied for review by Harper Collins New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

This book has been nominated for several major horror awards since I finished reading it, and apparently the film rights were sold before it was even published. Personally, I thought it was a perfectly good horror novel, but I didn't think it was that good.

Bird Box follows the journey of Malorie and her two young children from a dilapidated safe house to a refuge several miles away downriver, a journey which they undertake blindfolded Strange creatures have appeared on the Earth, and just one glimpse of them is enough to send a person homicidally mad. For obvious reasons, they're never described to the reader, although there's a strong suggestion of something demonic or otherworldly about them. There's something very Lovecraftian about the idea of monsters that are too much for mere human minds to comprehend, an idea that Josh Malerman seems to want to convey more literally than most – and there's something to be said for sparing us a purple description of the creatures' appearance. It does also mean, however, that the real source of horror in Bird Box isn't the creatures themselves but the constant fear and uncertainty of the characters fumbling through the world with their eyes covered.

In other words, this book depends for all its power on the internality of its characters, and this didn't quite work out for me. The flashback chapters that show the world falling apart after the creatures' first appearance, with only increasingly isolated pockets of humanity remaining in the midst of the chaos, are probably the book's strongest. These lead into flashbacks of the first refuge Malorie joined while she was still pregnant (title explanation: they use a bird box at the front of their boarded-up house as an early warning system), but obviously that's going to have to fall apart to bring Malorie to the present-day situation we find her in, and the characterisation generally isn't strong enough to maintain interest while we wait for the inevitable to happen. The present-day chapters are also an exercise in waiting for something to happen, which should by definition translate into tension, but I felt Malerman only partly succeeded here.

An interesting exercise in psychological horror with monsters, but not essential reading.

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