There once were only two books that have still managed to frighten me even after I’ve put them down. And then I read Bird Box.
I have never been so utterly terrified of the concept presented within.
Bird Box opens with Malorie preparing to embark on a journey with two young children who have only ever lived indoors. They have lived in an empty house for years, long after events have transpired. Events that Malorie has attempted to hide from herself and, at first, from the reader. This is a journey that has been years in the making; she has used her years alone in the house to train the children to hear everything: from the turning of a page of a book to how it sounds when she smiles or is sad. Malorie has been convinced that the only way for them, and for her, to survive this journey is to have them rely on their ears the way that she used to be able to rely on her eyes. For in this world, sight kills. As Malorie and the children, known only as Boy and Girl, begin their journey down the river that wends its way past the house, Malorie remembers the beginning.
It starts the way that many things do: with a news story or the spreading of information online. There have been several odd stories of people—your best friend or the grandmother next door—suddenly changing and becoming dangerous to themselves and others. With how quickly information spreads in a world of social media sites, it only is a matter of time before two camps are created: one that believes wholeheartedly the rumors and one that believes that it is just paranoia. It is very believable; I myself have seen news stories pop up on my feed that later turn out to be false. But the damage has already been done, because many more people have already spread that false story.
Unfortunately for Malorie, although she initially believes that the rumors are just that, rumors, she can avoid the truth no longer when this new danger rips right into her world. Suddenly, the notion that people saw something before killing themselves doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous to her. It seems very real. And very terrifying.
As we travel with Malorie down the river in the present and down her memories to the past, it becomes very apparent how often we are looking at things or out things. Bird Box made me so conscious of how often I look at things, and what it would mean if I suddenly had to wear a blindfold in order to survive. No more looking out windows, because they’d be blocked by mattresses and blankets. No more turning toward a strange sound to find out what made it, because if you did, you could be dead. Our curiosity could very well be what kills us.
Bird Box is a well-written third-person present tense horror novel that relies on what the terror of the unknown does to our psyche. We, like Malorie, never truly know what we are afraid of. We just know to be afraid. This psychological element gives the novel time to build the suspense until you feel as though you are being driven mad yourself. So the next time you see a flicker of movement in your peripheral vision, don’t turn to look.