The Hatching: A Great Expectations Review…

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GREAT (1)

The cover of today’s book carries a warning that it is “the most terrifying thriller you’ll read this year”, which is a pretty big call in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I was prepared to take The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone at face value and had major expectations for the scariness of the reading journey on which I was about to embark.  With a nod of thanks to Hachette Australia for providing the shelf with a copy of the book, we immediately turned to Goodreads to find out more about the story:

A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stakeout in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The US president, her defence and national security advisers and her chief of staff are dumped into crisis mode when China “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb on a desolate region of its own country. As such unsettling occurrences mount, the president’s old friend (and her chief of staff’s ex-wife), spider expert Melanie Guyer, receives a box at her lab at American University that contains an ancient egg unearthed at a South American dig.

So begins The Hatching, the hair-raising saga of a single week in which an ancient, frighteningly predatory species of spider re-emerges in force. When the unusual egg in Melanie Guyer’s lab begins to vibrate and crack, she finds herself at the epicentre of this apocalyptic natural disaster. Working closely with her ex-husband and his very powerful boss, she has to find some way to stem the brutal tide of man-eating arachnids.

the hatching

What I Expected:

*the most terrifying thriller I would read this year

*an overwhelming sense of creepiness exuding from the sounds, sights and … more sounds…of thousands of spiders and their equally numerous and leggy offspring, intent on devouring humanity

*an almost unbearable level of suspense and a plot that rolled along at breakneck speed

What I Got:

*spiders that didn’t seem nearly as scary as those we currently have living in our houses here in Australia

*a ridiculous level of detail regarding characters’ sex lives and relationships

*a remarkably slow story, told from multiple viewpoints in a narrative style that could only be described as “mostly filler” and a reasonably predictable ending

So you may have noticed from the above that I wasn’t particularly riveted by The Hatching.  Far from being the most terrifying thriller I have read this year, it didn’t even make it into the “most terrifying thriller I’ve read this WEEK” spot, which was taken by YA post-apocalyptic, plague-fest, Remade.  All the elements were there for a really monstrous story – Killer spiders! Global panic! Governments turning on their own citizens! – but the execution was ham-fisted and unimaginative and I couldn’t get over the feeling that this type of story has been done numerous times before and that this offering didn’t add much to the killer animal/insect genre of horror.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was the amount of unnecessary detail throughout.  The story is told from multiple alternating viewpoints – a style I normally enjoy – but we are subjected to enormous amounts of back story, mostly related to the sex lives of the characters, bizarrely, which seemed to have little or no relevance to the matter at hand – namely, escaping from ravenous spiders.  There is a real undercurrent of unnecessary smut going on in this book and I just couldn’t figure out why the editor let it all go through.  Almost every single character is engaging in some sort of sexual escapade – the professor sleeping with her student, the tour guide hoping to cheat on his girlfriend (who is cheating on him) with one of the supermodel concubines of a big fat rich man using his services….there’s even a couple called…wait for it…Fanny and Dick.

I kid you not.

I find it hard to believe that NO ONE else noted all these weirdly misplaced sexy goings-on during the editing of this book.  I’m no prude (well, I’m a bit of a prude to be honest), but I could not for the life of me figure out why all this relationship stuff was included in what was supposed to be a thriller, because it did nothing for me but slow the pace and distract away from the main premise – killer spiders!

The only characters seemingly not embroiled in some kind of sexual fiasco is a group of doomsday preppers, but once again, their sections of the story really didn’t add much to the whole shebang, given the fact that they are safely holed up in their doomsday bunkers.  In fact, most of the characters were so fundamentally unlikeable that I wouldn’t much have minded if the spiders won the day.

***MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!!!***

Despite my initial dislike for the story, I pushed on and eventually came to the end – and even that cheesed me off.  There is a point at which a whole bunch of dormant spiders have set up shop in a stadium and someone suggests the obvious solution – consigning the whole structure to the cleansing breath of hot, melty fire.  Strangely enough, the protagonists decide NOT to go with the whole “burn it down” solution and instead decide to watch for a while to see what happens.  And that, my friends, is why we are going to be burdened with a sequel to this not-particularly-well-constructed “thriller”.

***SPOILER ALERT OVER – NORMAL SERVICE ABOUT TO RESUME!***

As you can probably tell, I was massively disappointed with the execution of what could have been a really chilling tale.  Coming, as I do, from a spider-infested continent, I am well aware of how terrifying spiders can be (especially when they unexpectedly show up on your windscreen while you’re driving), but the amount of distracting filler in this book rendered any sense of suspense or fear non-existent for me.

Clearly, this was not the most terrifying thriller I will read this year, but do not let my cranky rantings put you off having at it if you’re keen.  You might find it scares you right out of your pants!  If so, you’ll be in good company, as most of the characters in this book seem to spend quite a bit of time engaging in pants-free activity.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during…Fellside!

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Shouty Doris interjects

Shouty Doris and I are pleased to welcome you today to our review of a book that has certainly had us talking –

Shouty Doris interjects

-arguing-

-…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?

fellside.jpg

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

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 –

Shouty Doris interjects

-club baby seals to death with it.

Possibly try a less violent metaphor next time, eh Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

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 –

Shouty Doris interjects

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

Probably due to all the drug use.

Quiet you.

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.

Shouty Doris interjects

Give me a good ol’ Mills & Boon any day, I say.

**passes tattered book to Shouty Doris**

Shouty Doris interjects

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)