I’m working with a group of students and teachers at my school to read the short-listed novels for the next Southern Schools Book Award. There are five in total, and I’ll be posting my reviews on the blog throughout the next few weeks.
The Bunker Diary – Kevin Brooks
This novel is a series of diary entries from the perspective of sixteen-year-old Linus. Linus, along with five other random victims, has been kidnapped and held in an underground bunker at the whim of their Big-Brother-style captor. Linus writes his entries into his notebook in an attempt to communicate with the outside world via ‘you’ the reader.
I found this book really dark and disturbing. I haven’t read any other novels by Kevin Brooks, and I can’t say I’m in a massive hurry to now. There were numerous times during reading that I almost refused to go any further. The content was cold and violent, and I felt it had a particularly sinister subtext.
With constant capitalised references to Him Upstairs, the novel seemed to question the nature and existence of God, and only seemed to offer negative answers. ‘He’ was maniacal, distant, controlling, isolating, voyeuristic, threatening and vindictive. ‘He’ threw people together to watch them destroy themselves and each other. Having seen the titles of some of Brooks’s other novels (Killing God in particular) I can only imagine that this is a recurring theme of his.
However, the students I’m working with didn’t seem to pick up on this, and I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. It’s good that it didn’t seem to fill them with theological and existential doubts. But it’s also insidious and dangerous that ideas like this are so prevalent in society that they can go unnoticed by our desensitised-yet-hyper-sensitive teenagers.
They enjoyed the style, pace and language, and found the plot disturbingly compelling. They found the concept intriguing and the characters puzzling.
As a literary exercise it was interesting. But I sincerely hope it doesn’t win the award. To give approval to this kind of text would be extremely disappointing, to say the least.
It did have one value, though.
While I read it, finding myself plunged into a darkness not of my own making, in which I desperately did not want to be, I was able to empathise with the plight of Linus and the others. And I was able – as none of them seemed to be – to strengthen my faith in The Lord as a result. Psalm 23 was vital to me during this process. As I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, it was Jesus who was with me, carrying me, lifting me, guiding me and bringing me home. ‘I will fear no evil,’ I told myself over and over, ‘for you are with me.’ Amen.