The Bunker Diary – Book Review

Bought Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary randomly after seeing it in a list of recent-ish YA books. Entirely worth it. You can check it out at Goodreads, and here it is on Amazon.

Here’s the review:

When I finished this book, I slowly rose, lifted it protectively to my chest, walked a short distance to place it tenderly on a shelf, slumped to the floor, and stroked my sweet kitten. Only then did I begin to cry.

Did not expect that. Thinking on it, though, it makes perfect sense. Poetic, beautiful, miserable, realistic, empty-but-not, pointless-but-not sense. How many kidnappings happen like this? How many lives of the most unfortunate, whatever their circumstances—war, abuse, famine, bigotry—happen like this, in total ignorance and agony? Why? There’s no reason, none good enough. This is real stuff. No movie gloss, no impossible stunts. Just cruelty and slow, sad loss of almost everything.

Expected this to be sort of a combo of hellish reality TV and Saw. Bits of both, with added essence from Danganronpa and Changi, with some seriously twisted psychological experimentation included, whether that is His (the unknown captor’s) purpose or not. Was numb throughout most of it, but heavily compelled to read on, gutted by the helplessness, desperation and almost-utter-hopelessness—there is still some lovely, stubborn optimism hidden in here—every sensation delivered painfully by the diary format, nothing to do but self-reflect, survive, and maybe try to make things less terrible for those you’ve come to care for and depend on. Being as in the dark as the characters as to every how and why was frustrating, but, again, it’s real. Most everyone’s guts would be twisted and minced, reading this.

Loved Linus—he’s nothing but a sweet kid trying to sort himself out, only to be snared into nightmare by his good heart. Seeing him left to try and finish this sorting out in such a brutal situation is heartbreaking. Every character, their reactions, their attempts to cope—they’re all relatable, all understandable. Linus’ perspective of his fellow prisoners is poignant—through him, I see much of myself in this mixed bag of individuals. Not a great thought, in some cases. They don’t all get on—there’s some serious dislike going on with any number of causes—but there’s no desire to hurt, no sinking en masse into uncontrolled violence, despite no hope of salvation (though things get rougher with His intervention). I’m glad of this. It’s one of very few bright-ish points in this bleak novel.

The stream of consciousness parts are pretty intense—don’t think I’ve read any quite so raw. The random reflections and great importance of such little things, like remembering rhymes, worked well. What do people think about in this situation? What can they think about in this situation? Anything to distract, even when they can’t think about finding distractions any more—a powerful protective mechanism, I think.

I’ll repeat a few words to finish, I suppose—painful, realistic, beautiful. Very dark, clever and thoughtful, terrible content handled not quite delicately, but humanly. Kevin Brooks is most deserving of the high praise The Bunker Diary has received. Four and a half stars from me—shall be thinking of random moments from this book at random times for a long while.

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Amphibian Rivalry

And now, a randomly generated scene…

Did one of these for my 100th post; I’d like to start doing more little writings such as this and reduce the number of personal journal-like posts. Hopefully soon there will be many more of these randomly generated scenes, more pictures in 100 words, and any other little formats I can think of. If you have any suggestions, please let me know 🙂

Seven Randomly Generated Nouns: night, sound, rudiment, gospodin, leer, training, polliwog

Five Randomly Generated Adjectives: redundant, perkier, tabular, bigger, chaste

Three Randomly Generated Verbs: arrange, modify, groom

One Randomly Generated Adverb: raucously

As day was to frigid, treacherous night, so the young cultivator was to his employer.

‘What kept you?’ the manager of the amphibian emporium scowled raucously when the young man – he could barely be called a man; Yulian was a boy smooth-chinned and still chaste – appeared a moment after he was clicked for. Taking him by the elbow, the manager hauled him forward and deposited him before their prospective customer. The young cultivator kept his feet, and arranged himself appropriately before the customer, bending his spine deeply on seeing the tall hat, gold-tipped cane, and refined expression of a high-born gentleman.

‘You’re to tour our guest around the tanks,’ the manager ordered with a leer before turning to his customer with a much more respectful smile. ‘Any question you have as to our wares or the rudiments of our trade, Gospodin Vasin, Yulian can answer.’

Though made nervous by his rank, Yulian addressed the stately customer properly as the manager returned to the shopfront, leaving the two alone. ‘If you would kindly follow me, Gospodin?’

‘You are a junior cultivator here?’ Gospodin Vasin asked as Yulian led him beneath the emporium. The air quickly grew cool, and the few lanterns flickered their carefully dimmed light, reflecting off the numerous polliwog and frog tanks arranged in an orderly, tabular fashion. Quiet croaks were the only sound apart from their own voices, footsteps, and intermittent soft splashes.

‘I am the only cultivator, Gospodin,’ Yulian informed the customer, ducking his head with timid pride as Gospodin Vasin read the labels on each tank. From polliwog to fully-grown frog, they were arranged in rows: anaesthetic, analgesic, sedative, antipyretic, antitoxin, and analeptic.

‘Your training must have been extensive,’ Gospodin Vasin commented, examining a tank of week-old polliwogs. They swam about contentedly, butting their growing heads and wriggling their tails as they raced. ‘I’ve not seen polliwogs perkier than these.’

‘You’ve seen many polliwogs, Gospodin?’ Yulian asked with mild surprise. Most of their customers were pharmacists and physicians – they purchased the amphibians’ medicinal secretions by the bucket load, but most had never even seen a frog, save for tiny black hoppers that took over the gutters in heavy rain. Those pests caused many of the diseases their carefully bred frogs were employed to help cure.

‘I know enough to see clearly now why I was hired,’ Gospodin Vasin replied, beckoning Yulian forward. Confused – wasn’t Gospodin Vasin his own manager, given the height of his hat and expensive glint of his cane? – Yulian joined him by the tank of mature, currently secreting anaesthetic frogs.

‘My employer’s wares have been made redundant, you see – all his customers have found better elsewhere. He owns such a respectable emporium; imagine his chagrin on realising it is not a bigger, more reputable shop that now claims his patrons, but this dingy little dump enjoying an inexplicable windfall of prosperity. This luck, I envisage, began when you were hired.’

‘I … have an affinity for amphibians, Gospodin,’ Yulian trod carefully, not sure where Gospodin Vasin was headed with his talk. But the cultivator’s skin crawled with the gentleman’s tone when the slimy texture of his frogs had never caused him even to twitch. ‘They like my being nearby.’

‘Is that so?’ Gospodin Vasin said softly, hearing clearly as the frogs began to croak more cheerily with Yulian’s close proximity.

Yulian’s throat dried out. He swallowed, eyes darting towards the door. It was all the way across the underground room, and up the long, steep stairs. ‘Do you have any questions for me, Gospodin?’

‘No,’ he replied, examining a frog ventured to the top of the open tank, absorbed. Yulian’s shoulders slumped with relief, and his speeding heart slowed.

Then there was a splash, and all of a sudden Yulian had a frog halfway down his throat.

‘Originally, my employer felt he had to modify how he grooms his cultivators in order to compete with you,’ Gospodin Vasin said as he struck Yulian hard with his cane, forcing him to the cement and squeezing the frog tight in his fist, undiluted anaesthetic oozing from its pores down the hapless cultivator’s throat. ‘Now he is convinced he must modify how he acquires his cultivators, instead.’

Choking on the thick, bitter sludge and the thrashing amphibian, Yulian lost all feeling in his limbs before he could resist longer than a second. He saw colours waltz gaily before his blurring eyes before he lost sense to darkness, entirely unaware as Gospodin Vasin hefted him, limp and heavy as a flour sack, over his shoulder. Moving purposely, the abductor knocked through a boarded-up opening behind a supplies shelf and spirited Yulian through a centuries-old passageway to a waiting car behind the building across. He threw the senseless boy into the backseat, and locked the door.