Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –
-…yes, whatever…more than any other tome so far this year! I speak of Fellside by M.R. Carey, a paranormal, magical realist, hard-bitten jaunt inside a women’s prison. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It’s a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?
Before we get into it, I should point out that the above blurb gives almost no indication of the depth of story that is explored in this book. This is one hefty tome, make no mistake, so one shouldn’t go into it thinking it’s all about one young woman and her hopes for redemption.
That’s right. You should go into it thinking it’s about drugs and sex.
Well. Yes. There is a considerable amount of drug-smuggling, drug-taking (both in accordance with, and against, medical advice) and general druggery going on within these pages (as indeed one might expect from a book set within a prison), and to a lesser extent, a reasonable amount of sex (extra marital and otherwise). Also, perhaps, as one might expect from a book set in a prison.
I did not consider this before reading, and therefore I was a little bit shocked by the grittiness of the plot.
You old prude.
Indeed! The main character of the tale is Jess Moulson, a young heroin addict who is convicted of murder after setting a fire that inadvertently caused the death of a ten-year-old boy living in the apartment above her. The story overall is Jess’s story, as she attempts redemption and tries to remodel herself in the dark, dingy underbelly of the maximum security wing of Fellside.
Apart from Jess’s story, we are also treated to chapters from the point of view of a whole host of other characters – the cowardly, get-along-to-go-along Dr Salazar, the spiteful Nurse Stock, a warder on the up in the drug trade of the prison known as The Devil and a whole host of other inmates, medical staff, lawyers and hangers-on whose stories are interlinked throughout the book.
And every one of them a crazed, violent loon! I needed a picture dictionary to keep up with them all. Especially the inmates. One crazy, loud, violent woman became much like another by the end.
Yes, after a while there were almost too many characters to keep a hold of, but I think Carey did a good job overall of keeping a handle on the multiple threads, and keeping the story from being impossible to follow.
You’ve got to be joking! There were more twists than Chubby Checker’s corkscrew!
Admittedly, by the final few chapters, the twists and unexpected outcomes really had been stretched to their limit. I couldn’t decide by the end whether I thought the execution was masterful or over the top.
Over the top. By the end, the main character had even changed!
Mmmm. I stilll think the author managed to err on the side of keeping control of his creation. One thing I can say for certain is that you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy this book. There is so much storyline to unpack that you could –
-club baby seals to death with it.
Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?
I though it suited the violent prison atmosphere.
Speaking of atmosphere, one thing I puzzled over was the fact that this book is set in England, written by an Englishman, yet there was nothing remotely British about the feel of the writing or characters. In fact, I was certain throughout that this was an American book about American characters. Certainly this isn’t necessarily something to complain about –
I’d like to complain about it.
but I just found it a bit strange and disorienting. This is probably quite appropriate because I found much of the book quite disorienting.
Probably due to all the drug use.
But definitely absorbing. This was an absorbing, gripping, unexpected read that I can’t say that I enjoyed, exactly, but certainly felt compelled to finish. I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Carey’s work here and will now have to hunt down The Girl With All The Gifts, which has been on my TBR for ages.
Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.
**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**
Oooh, this is a good one!
I still can’t decide whether or not to put Fellside up as a Top Book of 2016 pick, simply because, while it was so memorable and different to anything I’ve read so far this year, I didn’t actually enjoy it all that much. I suspect this one will make its way on to some bestseller lists, so I’m interested to see what others think of it.
If you are looking for a book that isn’t afraid to plumb the depths of human misery and provide you with plenty of distraction from your humdrum, not-being-in-prison existence, with a bit of a paranormal twist, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at Fellside.
But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Until next time,
Bruce (and Doris)