When Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box landed in 2014, it was a critical and financial success and quickly found itself optioned for a movie, despite being apparently ‘unfilmable’. The movie arrived on Netflix in 2018, starring Sandra Bullock and was a storming success for the streaming channel. Hot on the heels of the buzz around John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, Bird Box was likened to that movie, switched hearing for vision. The premise was simple: Earth has been invaded by mysterious creatures. If you look at them, you go mad and kill yourself.
The book worked wonderfully, telling the survival story from the point of view of Malorie over the space of around five years, from her falling pregnant, the creatures invading, and her trying to keep her child and that of another now deceased woman safe in this new world. Malorie never sees the creatures so the readers don’t either, it’s a cunning device that kept Bird Box tense and claustrophobic all the way through.
Now a sequel to the novel is with us, with rumours of a follow up movie buzzing in the background before lockdown.
Malorie begins in the Jane Tucker School for the Blind, two years after she and children Tom and Olympia made their way there by boat. While things had been peaceful for a time, a violent outbreak caused by the creatures causes the family to flee. But how could this happen when the other residents are all blind? Can the creature transfer the madness by touch?
Ten years later and Tom and Olympia are now 16 and live their entire lives by Malorie’s strict and unwavering rules. Long sleeve hoodies, gloves, and above all else, blindfolds—always, always blind folds—must be worn. The kids talk to no one, go nowhere, other than when specifically ordered by Malorie. Olympia escapes into books, while headstrong Tom fills his time tinkering with inventions he hope will widen his restricted world. They live ‘by the fold’, but is this really living when you’re 16 years old, or is it merely survival?
Fortunately, a chance encounter gives Malorie a glimmer of hope for something more. The family must go on another perilous and uncertain journey without ever being able to look at the world they are traversing.
The main tensions in the first half of Malorie are those between the eponymous character and the kids. They have always lived in a world where there are creatures and have adapted to it in different ways to Malorie, while she has suffered the loss of friends and family, seen many people die horribly, and is absolutely dead set on survival at all costs.
The teens want hope, company, some sort of progress while Malorie, at first at least, is absolutely resistant to change until a personal connection convinces her it’s time to take a journey.
Malerman’s prose is sparse and urgent, fitting for Malorie’s world and it makes for a compulsive and speedy read. Though there are flashbacks, it’s a more linear narrative than Bird Box and is essentially the story of a journey against a changed backdrop. As such then, it doesn’t add an enormous amount to the original, though it’s a fascinating world to explore nonetheless. Teenagers resentful of their grumpy mum are only so interesting, for so long, and their initial isolation could have dragged in less able hands, so Malorie is strongest when other characters come into play in the second half. Malorie’s reluctance to trust may have got them this far but can the family really move forward if they blindly refuse to interact with anyone else. And what effect will that have on the kids, especially curious, open-minded Tom?
The final act ramps up the tension with references to some familiar faces and world-expanding new ideas brought to the fore, making the finishing stretch never less than completely thrilling, however a conclusion that feels incredibly rushed and very unsatisfying might leave you feeling cheated – plot wise.
While emotionally the ending makes a kind of sense, the logic and the conclusions really don’t – we can’t say more without spoilers. Malorie is pacey and well written and easy to whip through, you just might want to un-see the end.