This week, my thoughts of 'The Bunker Diary' by Kevin Brooks!
When this burst onto the YA scene, it immediately grabbed my attention for two reasons. One - it's won a huge literary prize - the Carnegie Medal. Two - it's caused a huge amount of controversy. Some have rendered it unsuitable for children, and a writer from the Telegraph dubbed it 'vile and dangerous,' going as far to say it won on shock value rather than merit. 'The Bunker Diary' certainly has got opinions flying all over the place so I thought I'd check it out to see what all the fuss is about. It was a roller coaster ride of a read that definitely got me thinking.
Links to two articles discussing the book if you want to check them out:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10920101/The-Bunker-Diary-why-wish-this-book-on-a-child.html - Why wish this book on a child?
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/24/carnegie-medal-the-bunker-diary-kevin-brooks - Carnegie Medal Under Fire
Warning: dodgy metaphor coming up - please do stick around.
The thing that persuaded me to go onto this weird bookish roller coaster in the first place was the concept. The questions thrown out right from the start. Why has Linus been imprisoned, what's the motive? Why these particular people? Who exactly is the 'man upstairs?' Where are they? So many things that had my mind buzzing, leaving me keen to read on. While reading the beginning, I found Brooks' approach simple but effective - give the characters a basic motive - to escape, and watch the chaos unfold. The author seemed confident in his style and genre and whilst I wasn't familiar with any of his previous work, 'The Bunker Diary' definitely hooked me in. I knew it wouldn't be long until I reached the final page.
So, it all seemed to be going well from there. See that as the climb to the top of the roller coaster's hill, if you will. The excitement bubbling, waiting for something huge to happen, or a series of events. There was something ominous about the routine that first Linus and his nine year old companion Jenny fell into and how they almost 'settle' into Bunker life. When the other characters started filtering from the lift however, that's when all hell broke loose, the sudden plummet towards the bottom of the hill that had me turning pages quicker than a librarian on acid. There were many elements that lead me to this point: the range of, detail, and craft of each character, the unsettling themes such as drug addiction, rape and homelessness, and the natural dialogue. Brooks was threading more mysteries and I couldn't wait to get answers.
Another element of this was the visual side to Brooks' writing; I felt as though I could see everything and some of the more unsettling images have stayed with me long after finishing. By using an empty, blank canvas of a setting he's made the readers focus wholly on the characters, which is what the book turns out to be about, but still with the niggling thought of what's going on in the real world. It's 'Big Brother' meets the 'Hunger Games,' which is an interesting and clever mix by anyone's standards. The very visual descriptions, characterization and dialogue made me feel as though I was right inside the bunker. Brooks had me fall hook, line and sinker.
When I'd got through the main bulk of the book - the majority of the roller coaster - I had mixed emotions as it slowed to the end. One the one hand, the steady decline both mentally and physically of the characters was admirably done. When the 'privileges' are stripped (basic things such as food and water) and some turn to any means to keep going, again I could see the greying faces and hear the desperation inside each of their heads. It's a grim downhill struggle; hope fades and I guess you could argue its realism. That was the good bit.
Then there's the other side, which rather than shocked, slightly sick and saddened, just left me disappointed. Before I threw myself into 'The Bunker Diary' I was warned it wasn't for people who liked closure. I thought I could cope with this, but didn't read it as 'this ending will very much annoy you.' Maybe I should have. Again, I understand Brooks trying to give an element of realism and leave the whole thing raw. Maybe I should have seen that from the start when the whole thing written in diary format, but I still would have liked some of the questions answers. Since I enjoyed most of the book so much, I'm trying to look on it as a positive and clever climax but I really can't. I get that in the real world you wouldn't get answers to all the questions, rather like reading an exaggerated news report, but the majority of the mysteries Brooks had brought up and kept me reading with just were... left.
Some could argue it's a cop out. Some could argue it's realistic. Personally I would've loved a realization - Linus finally coming up with an answer before tragedy strikes - that would make the whole thing more heartbreaking. Or maybe an epilogue, a short passage giving an element of closure. Or even a note from the 'Man Upstairs.' Something. At least a complete sentence.
Maybe then I could've closed 'The Bunker Diary' with a sad smile rather than a sigh.
So there you have it. A warning if you will. Don't step onto the roller coaster without being prepared for disappointment, if you can stomach the first two thirds that is.
In summary: A shocking, visual and heartbreaking read, which unfortunately left me disappointed. One to form your own opinions of. 3 stars.