My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ this was a highly anticipated release. Like that book, it’s very compellingly written – early on in the book, I said to myself, “Well, I think it doesn’t really matter WHAT Carey’s writing about, if he writes it, I will enjoy reading it.”
Admittedly, the topic/setting here is not as ‘up my alley’ as ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ is. I love weird futuristic dystopias to death, and while I also enjoy ghost stories, this leans more towards ‘contemporary British prison drama that happens to contain a ghost’ rather than towards being a classic horror story.
Fellside’s the name of the prison. Sentenced to reside there is Jess Moulson. Jess is a junkie whose no-good boyfriend got her deeper and deeper into her addiction – until one tragic night. While she was strung out on dope, Jess’ house burned down, killing a young boy who was her neighbor – and ironically, the only person in the building that Jess had warm feelings for. Although Jess can remember barely anything about what actually happened the night of the fire, the courts judge that it was intentional arson on Jess’ part, and she’s convicted of the murder of the boy. Along the way, the crime becomes a high-profile case, and she’s vilified by the press and the public.
This, I thought, was the weakest part of the book. Maybe England is a bit different from the USA, but the whole thing seemed like a rather typical, unremarkable, sordid incident. Here, a junkie causing a fire that killed someone in a low-income area might make the paper – once. It might be considered manslaughter, at the worst. And no one would pay much attention. A lot of the book rides on Jess’ guilt – both her personal guilt at her culpability, and that which is presumed to be hers by others – and I just wasn’t feeling it. I think the book might’ve worked better if Jess had been portrayed as a much more horrible person; but the author is careful throughout to give the reader room to be sympathetic toward her.
Once in prison, wracked by guilt and depression, Jess decides to kill herself through a hunger strike. In her extremity, a ghostly presence makes contact with her – and believing that perhaps she might be able to do something to ease the spirit of the boy she killed gives her a new reason for living… But first, she’ll have to survive Fellside – where beatings and even murders are common, criminal schemes are everywhere, and the employees are just as crooked as their wards.
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