by M. R. Carey
Mike Carey has a real genius for making me care about characters that I don't want to care about. No matter how unprincipled or corrupt they are, no matter how destructive their decisions, no matter how foreordained their fates, I end up empathizing with them despite myself. In Fellside, he exploits this talent more ruthlessly than ever before.
Fellside is a very different book than anything else I've read by Carey. Yes, like 90% of his other books, it involves ghosts. Yes, like several of his most recent books, it's in some ways a story about stories, with the narrative woven in and around the life stories of the characters. But Fellside is darker, grittier, and grimmer than any book that came before. Much of this has to do with the cast of characters. The narrative switches between the perspectives of a convicted childkiller, a corrupt guard, a viciously sanctimonious nurse, a pliable and defeated doctor, and more. And the worst of all of it is that I ended up caring about almost all of them, aching as they made destructive choice after destructive choice. <i>Fellside</i> deals punch after punch to the gut, then somehow transforms itself into something heartwrenching but also bittersweet and oddly beautiful.
I can't describe much of the plot; I don't want to even give my usual blurb for fear that details will lessen the book's impact. While there is an overall mystery, it isn't the driving force behind the plot. Instead, the story is composed of smaller arcs and the slow complex entangling of the characters' lives. While I did guess the solution to the mystery, the ending took me utterly by surprise. Most of the narrative is an exploration of morality through the microcosm of Fellside prison. Some of my favourite quotes:
“The facts are in the outside world. You can verify them with your senses or with objective tests. The truth is something that people build inside their heads, using the facts as raw materials. And sometimes the facts get bent or broken in the process. [...]
Justice? Justice is even more problematic than truth. It’s an emergent property of a very complicated system. [...] It’s neither an ingredient in the pie nor the pie itself. It’s the smell that rises up out of the pie if you’ve cooked it right. We don’t aim for justice, Ms Moulson. We perform our roles and justice happens."
"Doing time, she thought inconsequentially. As though time were a drug. If it was, she might have dosed herself more carefully."
"The dead were dreams that dreamed themselves alive. Maybe the living were too. Another time for that."
Fellside itself is startlingly different than Carey's other works. While I'm not quite sure its audience is a perfect match for fans of The Girl with All the Gifts or The Steel Seraglio, if you're in the mood for a uniquely dark, peculiarly gripping story, Fellside is well worth a look.
~~I received this ebook from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you! Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~