I know I’m in the non-unique position of having read Josh Malerman’s Bird Box after having first seen the Netflix film adaption. Bird Box was a book that I always had on my list of “must-reads” but just never got around to. With the news of the upcoming sequel, Malorie, releasing later this month, I decided it was high time I order and read one of the top horror novels of the last few years (as it has been purported by many reviewers). I wasn’t disappointed.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Bird Box describes the story of Malorie, a twenty-something woman who discovers she is pregnant at the beginning of a global phenomenon unlike anything the world has ever experienced. People are killing others and themselves violently after having “seen” something. When the incidents become widespread and too close to home, Malorie and her sister have to remain homebound and cover their doors and windows. When Malorie’s sister succumbs to suicide by seeing whatever is outside, Malorie decides her only chance of survival is to answer a newspaper article that invites strangers to a home several blocks away.
As the book goes on to describe Malorie’s interactions with her new housemates, the story flips back and forward in time. In the future, Malorie is alone, taking care of two children. She decides for their ultimate survival that they need to take a boat downriver to a new safe haven. The only catch is they need to do it blindfolded. Closing ones eyes is the only way they cannot be affected by the “creatures”.
There is a review on the book cover that describes the writing as “Hitchcockian”. It’s absolutely right. The writing style, language use, and interior monologue all remind me of watching films like “Rear Window”, “The Birds” and “Vertigo”. Its my opinion that the psychology is what makes this book truly terrifying. Told from first person POV, the reader is literally inside Malorie’s head and experiences everything she does that much closer. Malerman keeps sentences concise and the pace quick and cleverly repeats thoughts to ramp up the tension. This was a book that was very difficult to put down.
Despite knowing that Malorie ends up alone, I still wanted to know what happened to the housemates she became close with. Its the relationships between all of these people, cloistered in the middle of this crazy apocalypse that keeps readers wanting more. And of course, I desperately wanted to know what obstacles Malorie would face on the river while trying to keep her two children safe.
Having seen the film first, there were surprises that were already ruined for me. Even though the film and the book definitely have variances, I knew not to trust Gary from the moment he entered the house. I knew that one of the other children was from another mother who would die. I knew what was waiting for Malorie and the children at the end of the river. I appreciated small things that were left out of the movie though.
One: it was never discussed in the film whether or not the creatures had a physical presence. In the book, the housemates would regularly check enviornments with brooms to ensure that nothing sinister had gotten inside. In the film, it remained pretty standard that as long as you couldn’t see the creatures, you were alright.
Two: The effect of the creatures on animals was never explored in the film. In the book, Malorie takes one of her housemates’ dogs, Victor, on a run to find a sound system in town. The housemates also happen to find birds in a box in someone’s garage which serve as an alert system, as they are later hung on the front porch. The birds are in the film (found in a supermarket…which makes little sense) and also are present while on the river. In the book, all the animals die and we see first hand that by looking at the creatures, any animal can go crazy and kill itself. There’s a harrowing scene in the book where Malorie and the children are on the river, and hundreds of birds start killing each other in the skies above them and start raining down on the characters. How amazing and terrifying would that have been on the big screen?
Three: The implication that the creatures have brainwashed certain people into doing their bidding for them is more prominent in the film than in the book. Besides the guy on the river who tries to attack Malorie and the children, the only other implication that these creatures don’t kill certain characters immediately is from Gary, who becomes a lingering toxic presence within the household as weeks go by. Its also implied that Gary might be psychologically impaired and that makes a difference when seeing the creatures for the first time. In the film, there are TONS of people running around trying to get our main characters to open their eyes and see the creatures.
What I preferred about the book was that the creatures aren’t seen as nefarious. Malorie and others perceive them to be at times because of the devastation they’ve caused, but they also say many times that they wonder if the creatures don’t know the effect that they’re having. Its actually scarier not knowing what the creatures motive is or understanding why they’ve suddenly appeared vs. the idea that they just want to either convert or kill everyone.
Now, I’ll mention the one thing that bugged me about the book: the lack of diversity in characters. In the film, there are various characters of different races and ages, body types, hair colors…etc. It’s no secret that today’s readers hunger for more diversity in their literary choices. People want characters from time periods and locations undergoing strife because of their ethnicity, sexual preferences, religious beliefs…etc. So, when we meet the housemates in Bird Box, I was hoping for a little more variance. Instead, we have several slim people in their late twenties with brown hair. I was really saddened by that. I was especially sad when Olympia showed up and her description was basically the same as Malorie’s.
Despite that, I still thought the book was much scarier than the film. I really enjoyed it and cannot wait until the sequel, Malorie, comes out at the end of July.
I’m now reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s creepy new release “Mexican Gothic” and hope to have a review for that next weekend!