A Prison Story? A Ghost Story? A Woman's Story.
Fair warning: you will hit a point where you will not want to put this book down. So if you’re like me, prepare for a “stay up late to find out what happens” finish.
Last year I read Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts which is simply fantastic. I highly recommend it - I hesitate to call it a “zombie story” because I (and I assume others) am getting bored with the genre, but it’s wonderfully atypical and full of suspenseful surprises. So when I saw he had another book available, I eagerly picked it up.
Hitting rock bottom is what comes to mind when you meet Jess Moulson. She is a cocaine addict in an abusive relationship who has half her face and body burnt beyond recognition when her apartment goes up in flames. What’s more, she is charged with starting the fire, which also resulted in the death of a small boy named Alex. A guilty verdict to murder charges lands her at Fellside, a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. And it is here where Alex finds her.
I will admit, when I first saw “ghost story” in an abstract about the book, I hesitated. Not because I shy away from the fantastical (quite the opposite), but because ghosts can so easily swing the way of hokey. But Carey effortlessly brings Jess, and his readers, into and out of the “world of the dreamers” - that place deeper than sleep where reality distorts and unsettled souls can connect with the living.
It’s hard to not feel some Orange Is the New Black-isms when the majority of the book is set in a women’s prison - there’s the camaraderie and the rivalry, the under-handed dealings between inmates, corruption within the system, and an extremely colorful cast of characters. Except Fellside is Litchfield Penitentiary raised to an x factor, where x is equivalent to the worst criminal in the cell block, and we’re talking about murderers and sociopaths. Throughout there is an underlying current of terror and danger, as if Fellside is sitting on a pile of explosives and each inmate is holding a match.
As Jess tries to piece together the night of the fire, we start to learn there is far more to the events of that evening than originally thought…and far more strength within this woman than anyone suspected. It’s quiet, not always obvious and often frustratingly buried beneath doubt and regret. But there is strength there nonetheless. What’s more exciting than just an intriguing protagonist is the interesting collection of women around her. I wasn’t keeping a tally, but in an all-women’s prison, the numbers are certainly in favor of the female persuasion. Each of the more than a dozen characters (men and women alike) is distinct in their personality and motivations, and few fall even close to the realm of charicature.
I’m going to wrap up here because this book relies on the reader not knowing too much, and I’ve been terrified of giving anything away while writing this. Fellside is filled with intrigue, danger and horrifically fascinating characters with a dash of exciting court room drama, and a taste of the supernatural. I very much recommend this fantastically woven story about getting lost and then finding your way out of the fog.
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery
Audiobooked while painting this set:
Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf
Writers Theatre of Glencoe
Scenic Design by Linda Buchanan