“Why me?!”, I asked my wife, “Why do I always have to choose the worst books?!” – with the prettiest covers, I might add.
Because this book is a classic example why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – which, in this case, is beautiful whereas the contents read like they’ve partly been ripped out of the script to some mediocre horror b-movie and partly been born out of the brain of a pubescent teenager. Maybe a sadistic ecology freak was on-board as well because at times the book reads like something along the lines of “nature strikes back”.
The plot is simple and the premise interesting: A female-only boarding school on a small island; “the Tox”, some kind of plague, ravaging the wildlife, the girls and their teachers. Hetty, Byatt and Reese, three pupils and friends, are trying to survive. Suddenly, when Byatt vanishes Hetty learns something sinister is going on on the island…
I’m not even sure where to start with my criticism because this book has almost no redeeming qualities: The writing is weird and I found myself asking “what did she smoke?!”:
“And in the other hand, Raxter. No ferry on the horizon, mainland far and farther. Water and shoreline born new every day. Everything what it wants to be. Everything mine. I’m buried there no matter where I go.”
The wise old woman expressing the above is Hetty, a teenager of 16 years… Yeah, riiight…
The pacing is all over the place, too: Slow introductive scenes into the not-so-normal school life with the Tox dominate the first 50% of the book. Then, suddenly, things escalate quickly and we find ourselves in outlandish fights with cross-breeds between human and flora (!), and corrupted animals.
Then again, things come to a screeching halt and we’re back inside the school. As if that wasn’t enough already, we’re witnessing school girl tragedy, the evil headmistress, the misunderstood well-meaning teacher and lots of other characterless characters.
In a rather simplistic attempt to cater to a broader audience, there are some LGBT motifs tacked on to the story. Unfortunately, they feel completely artificial and add nothing at all to the story. The entire ménage à trois between our three lacklustre “heroines” feels completely off and weird. Worst with respect to that, though: I didn’t care one bit. Byatt? Reese? I couldn’t care less whom of which makes Hetty’s heart beat faster.
This entire book feels very bizarre but not in a good way. I progressed from “bizarre”…
““Don’t,” […] cries from behind me. But I can’t listen. It’s not him anymore. I lean hard, brace my hand on his elbow as I wedge the knife deeper and deeper and start to lever it up. There’s a heart to all this. There has to be.”
… by way of “seriously?!”…
“He’s rotting from the inside out.”
… to “disgusting”…
“Until finally. A snap. And inside his rib cage, I see it. A beating heart, glossed in blood. Built from the earth, from the bristle of pine, and inside, there is something else, something more, something living. I don’t think twice. Just claw at it with both hands, and it comes screaming out with a wet tear.”
… within this very scene and the entire book.
Especially the above scene made me actually think that these might simply be the feverish violent fantasies of a pubescent boy, tinged with bloodthirsty revenge.
Curiously, Hetty of all people sums up my feelings for this book pretty well:
“Person after person collapsing under the weight of this place, lie after lie, and I’ve had enough of this. Enough of these confrontations, of secrets spilling out of us like blood.”