In The Girl With All the Gifts, Mike Carey pulled together some well used ideas (zombies, post-collapse Britain) and made a clever and original novel. Fellside has a similar feel – a host of familiar ideas but put together in a somewhat unusual way that provides enough unfamiliarity to feel original but with less success than The Girl With All the Gifts.
Jess Moulson is a heroin addict who finds herself imprisoned for murder after a fire in her flat causes the death of a child in the flat above her. Sent to a private prison in Yorkshire, Jess is consumed by despair and guilt but has little recall of the actual events around the fire. In attempt to end her life by starving herself, Jess rediscovers a lost childhood capacity to talk to ghosts…
The book certainly drags you along into the mystery of Jess supposed crime and the ghost-like being she forms a bond with, as well as the violent machinations of the prison’s drug trade and corrupt prison officers. Nearly everybody is either terrible or ineffectual and the themes of guilt (justified or not) run throughout.
Yet, the pieces never really feel convincing. It is unfair to call the characters cliches but they aren’t far from being basic prison-drama tropes. The join between the mundane and the supernatural feels clunky and the information about Jess’s childhood abilities arrives by an early infodump. The legal process (which is important to the plot and denouement) is unconvincing. The super-clever scheme for smuggling drugs into prison makes no sense at all. Also, the story seems to imply that there is either only one courthouse in England and/or prisoners at Fellside only ever have to visit this one special courthouse just for them.
Wasn’t keen on the violence – the story has a focus on pain and injury that felt too engrossed in the idea.
The ending – yeah, also not great.
Good beach read. Good read on really hot post-Christmas do nothing sort of day in the Australian summer when the air-con is broken and really you can’t do anything but lie still with the fan on full blast. I feel mean criticising it because I read it and it pulled me along. Stephen King would have pulled the whole thing together but that is an unfair comparison.
I can imagine it being turned it to a really good TV adaptation. A horror story in which it is mundane reality which is threatening & monstorous in contrast to a supernatural haunting which is comforting.