Author: Josh Malerman
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Well. I got Birdbox yesterday and here I am less than 24 hours later writing this review. I’m going to be giving a lot of praise to this book in the ensuing paragraphs, but that fact is probably the greatest praise I can bestow. I just couldn’t put the damn thing down.
Birdbox is a psychological thriller by Josh Malerman, a lead singer and songwriter of the rock band The Highly Strung. Birdbox is his first novel. In the opening chapters of Birdbox, we are introduced to Malorie, a woman living alone with two young children. She is planning a trip up the river, to somewhere ‘safer’. She has been planning for four years, and today is the day. She wakes the children, gets her things, and gets ready to go. Before they open the door to the outside world, Malorie puts a blindfold on each of the children, and then on herself. You see, in this world, you cannot open your eyes outside. Outside there are creatures that lie beyond a human’s comprehension. If you were to see them, you would almost instantly go insane, killing people around you and then eventually committing suicide.
Thus is the incredibly strong premise of Birdbox. As the quote says on the front, it’s turning a cliche on its head. How do you fight something you can’t see? But it’s even more intricate than that. This is ‘how do you fight something you don’t want to see’. The world of Birdbox is one of fear. Fear of the unknown and the unknowable. The fear of what lies right in front of your shut eyes. Malerman does a phenomenal job of creating a world where outside is a no-man’s land. Abandoned cars become tremendous obstacles. Twigs and outcrops become your death. Neighbourhood cats become just another beast.
The world-building is so strong that it’s hard not to get lost in the place, just as the characters so often do. When someone is to venture outside we feel the world through them. We only know the world through sound, through touch. There are long sequences where we are lost along with the characters feeling the same paralysing dread of wading through the unknown.
The story of Birdbox is split into two main parts. One is the ‘present’ as Malorie and her children make their way up the river and the other is a flashback of Malorie’s journey up to this point. Both are exciting and enthralling and you never feel fatigue when you switch. Malorie’s journey starts when all this begins. The arrival of the ‘creatures’ is slow. News reports start flagging strange suicides, where the victim claimed to have seen something. These occurrences soon escalate and the creatures seem to take the world from us. What they are, nobody can ever know? I love how Malerman keeps the story small. We see through Malorie’s eyes what happens to the world. This could have easily been a massive global event story, with many points of view all over the world. But, it isn’t. It’s very local. And by the end of the novel, Malorie’s neighbourhood is almost a character of itself.
Birdbox is so confident in it’s storytelling, it’s almost hard to believe it is a debut novel. It is compelling and brutal and the mysteries of the world as well as the brilliantly fleshed-out characters keep you rocketing to the end. Malerman knows which mysteries to solve and which to leave hanging. As I was reading, I thought that the only thing better than finding out what the creatures are would be if I didn’t. Do you find out? I’ll leave that for you to discover.
All I know is that by the end of Birdbox I was in love with this amazing world that Josh Malerman created. I would love to spend more time in it, whether it be through a separate story or a sequel.
Oh, also I had a pretty horrible nightmare last night about Birdbox. Even my subconscious seems to love it.
Birdbox is a thriller that will stay with you. It will haunt your nightmares. It will breath down your neck when you are asleep. It will stand by your bed. Birdbox is a shockingly brilliant novel about humanity’s greatest fear. The fear of the unknown.
Birdbox by Josh Malerman gets an amazing 5/5.