Birdbox by Josh Malerman

Now a major motion picture starring Sandra Bullock, this is the debut novel that started it all. Malorie, a young college student, finds herself pregnant at the end of the world. Following an advert in the local paper, she joins a group of young, attractive men and women who try to hide from the invisible creatures that drive anyone who sees them insane. Predictably, Malorie is left alone holding not one, but two babies, and must find a way to survive in this new world where seeing is dangerous. The narrative alternates between the present, where, blindfolded, Malorie and the two children try to navigate a boat down a river, and a series of flashbacks which detail Malorie’s journey from early pregnancy to the present day. This structure works, however the book is written in first person present tense, which I understand for the sections set in the present, but I found a confusing choice for the flashbacks. Malorie and the children are alone, for whatever reason, so the artificial tension that present tense might lend to the narrative is rendered redundant in the flashback scenes. I loved the movie and watched it several times, and it was because of it that I bought and read the book. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I won’t go into comparisons between the two, and all the ways I think the movie immeasurably improved on the novel, because that would be unfair. I will simply narrow down my long list of grievances of why I disliked this book into three points. 1. This book was published in 2014, and apparently was written shortly before that, but I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t written by the author when he was a young man sometime in the 1990’s. There is no harm that the action is dated, that landlines and electricity works yet no one consults the internet or their cell phones and that major plot points hinge on newspapers and phone books. However, I find it hard to get past the lack of knowledge of how basic things work that are so prevalent in this book. Surely one of the managers, agents or editors who the author thanks so fully at the back of the book would have noticed these errors? Wolves, toilets and birth are so misrepresented in this book that my mind boggles at how it got published as is. 2. The characters are extremely shallow. I don’t mean they are selfish and superficial, I mean they are so transparent as to be nonexistent. Malorie spends a large portion of the book in a house full of people, but I struggled to differentiate any of them as they were all identical. This group of puppets is led by a man named Tom, who we are told is intelligent, yet his intelligence seems to consist of making things that immediately fall apart. Malorie carries on an entirely one sided relationship with Tom, which means she tells the reader how amazing he is without ever giving us evidence of this through his actions or words. 3. Finally, my biggest gripe with this novel is that the whole crux of the plot revolves around people becoming mentally ill once they see these invisible creatures (I know, that sentence doesn’t make sense) and naturally, like all mentally ill people, they go on a killing spree before killing themselves in the most gruesome way possible. By the end of the book I thought it was a hateful treatise of ignorance and bile directed towards those with mental illness, and it left a bad taste in my brain as well as destroying my fondness for the movie. I very generously award Birdbox
Click here to buy Birdbox on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “Birdbox by Josh Malerman”

  1. I totally agree with your review. I really liked the movie but found the book boring and badly (if not pretentiously) written, characterisation non-existent, and overall incredibly stupid. The depiction of mental illness was offensive and ignorant, and I agree it felt like it was written by an adolescent. The movie made a good job of the concept, but the book did not – I think one dog out of five is generous!

    Liked by 1 person

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