Tuesday, 25 January 2011

‘Allison Hewitt Is Trapped’ – Madeleine Roux (Headline)

‘I remember when all this was fields...’

Okay, maybe that’s a little overly dramatic but sometimes it really feels like you can’t take a step without tripping over a zombie novel these days. I remember a time (and it really wasn’t that long ago) when I went book shopping and could only find the two Brian Keene books and Joe McKinney’s ‘Dead City’ on the shelves. These days you’re spoilt for choice and I’m wondering whether that’s a good thing or not. I guess the bottom line is that if all these zombie novels are good then I’m quite happy for the shelves to be overflowing with them but that’s never gong to be the case is it? If there’s a demand for a certain genre of book then it stands to reason that publishers are going to go and hoover up anything similar that they can get their hands on and quality control suffers. I’ll happily admit that ‘quality control’ is a relative term and that books like ‘Allison Hewitt is Trapped’ may totally do it for you; it didn’t do it for me though (although I thought it would at first...)

When the zombie apocalypse arrives one of the worst places to be trapped has to be in the staff break room in a downtown book shop; low on essential supplies and rapidly getting bored reading the one magazine that is all anyone had on them (especially as there’s a whole load of books that you can’t get to!) What there is though is wireless internet and store worker Allison Hewitt has a laptop so...
What follows is an online journal detailing Allison Hewitt’s journey through the shattered landscape of the zombie apocalypse (as well as those of the people following her blog) starting from the break room and finishing at...

With the positive deluge of zombie novels out there at the moment it’s clearer than ever that a zombie book has to do things a little differently if it’s going to stand out from the rest. Roux has obviously taken this on board as ‘Allison Hewitt’ is possibly the only zombie novel that I’m aware of where the story is told via blog. When I saw this, I was immediately interested in reading more and seeing how this approach translates into a book. It was a bit of a mixed bag really...

What I did enjoy was the way that the ‘blog approach’ gives the reader more than one story of survival through the comments left by Allison’s readers. This isn’t just Allison’s story, there are people all over the world going through the same kind of thing and what the reader gets as a result is the sense of apocalypse on a worldwide scale. Some of these shorter responses are actually a lot harder hitting than what’s in the main bulk of the book and you get the feeling that people leaving these comments are really pressed for time and have to make every word count. It’s a shame then that these shorter comments are ultimately at odds with Allison’s journal itself which can come across as rambling and not so urgent in comparison.

It’s funny that the concept which got me interested in reading ‘Allison Hewitt’ is trapped was the very same concept that got in the way of my engaging with the book itself. I had the same kind of issue when I watched Romero’s ‘Diary of the Dead’; great film but I kept thinking that things couldn’t be that bad if the main character felt safe enough to carry a dirty great camera around and film it all. It’s the same kind of deal here with Allison at times worrying more about the wireless connection, on her laptop, than what dangers might lurk in this new world. I gave it a go but, in the end, I just couldn’t buy that scenario playing out and this gave me a lot of trouble trying to engage with the plot. I also couldn’t help wondering if the act of survival, in this landscape, was such a big deal if Allison was able to remember conversations etc in such detail at the end of each day. You could say that the whole situation was so traumatic that everything going on would be engrained in her memory but it just didn’t feel that dangerous to me you know that Allison will be there at the end of the day to blog about it.  J.L. Bourne’s ‘Day By Day Armageddon’ handles this approach a lot more effectively with a diary format that really gets across to the reader how dangerous things are (abrupt endings, cliff hangers etc).

This was a real shame as the character of Allison holds the plot together well and is someone that you want to follow, even when things appear contrived towards moving things on just for the sake of getting them going. I’m thinking about the zombie squirrel here by the way; what’s the point of introducing a zombie squirrel and then seeming to ignore the whole issue of zombie animals for the rest of the book (they should have been fighting their way through all kinds of zombie animals)? Not even a ‘lets get moving, keep an eye open for more zombie squirrels...’
Sorry, getting back on track again... While I may not have liked the way things were moved forwards there’s no questioning the fact that Allison is a good character to move forwards with. Allison may be afraid but knows that sitting still is the most dangerous thing to do when the dead are returning from the grave. You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and that’s what Allison is good at. Roux also finds time to introduce an element of human drama (along with zombie obstacles) which forces Allison’s character to develop. The Allison we begin the book with isn’t the Allison who ends it and that is all to the good.

‘Allison Hewitt Is Trapped’ benefits greatly from its strong lead character but that ended up being almost the only reason I kept reading. The concept that the whole thing was meant to hang on didn’t hold up as far as I was concerned and that was a real shame for a book that had potential to begin with.
I'm pretty sure zombie fans will like this anyway but there is better out there.

Six and a Half out of Ten

5 comments:

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I've been looking for new books in the zombie/post apocalyptic genre to whet my appetite, so I might give this one a try. The blogger angle sounds pretty cool so I'll see what it's like. Thanks for the review :)

bascule said...

Sounds like Mira Grant covered the blogging/zombies better. "Feed" was great book with consequences.

noothergods said...

I've never been a huge fan of zombie books. Movies I can do, and comics I generally enjoy, some of the survival games out there are a lot of fun, but novels? I do think the blog angle is cool. I have a fantasy novel that should be published by July which is written as the main characters journal. But given the problems mentioned in your article I probably won't be reading this book.

staticgirl said...

So who maintains electricity communications and t'internet in a post apocalyptic world? Zombie cable men?

Graeme Flory said...

It kind of gets explained in the book but I much prefer the idea of zombie cable men :o)
It's a little known fact but zombies do love their internet in between eating the living ;o)