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.

Names Of Fame, Fiction, And Hidden Significance

Our names are amazing things.  In a single, almost nonsensical string of words, we can be defined in total.  Sometimes even just one word comprising one, two, three, or four (or a few more) syllables is enough to get the job done so astonishingly well that nothing else is needed – our given names.  For example, all that I am sums to me, and I am Beth.

These all-encompassing definitions are precious gifts, given to us (for the most part) by our mothers and fathers.  The reasoning and stories behind these gifts may be many and varied.  They may be personal, such as being named in honour of a dear friend of family member.  Our parents may be sculpting our future success, naming us for those with famous faces in hope that our namesakes’ good looks and talent rub off on us.  We may be named for a certain time, maters and paters scouring lists of the most popular Bible, Victorian, or 60s names for our perfect definition. Our identities may come from nature, like Autumn, Dawn, and Daisy, or virtues, such as Patience and Charity, or we may be bestowed with a name of certain meaning.  Names may simply come from parents liking the sound of it – my grandfather wished to call his eldest daughter Barbara Ursula Madden for the same reason any good father would.  We may even be named for fiction – I’m guessing numbers of Harrys, Hermiones, Edwards, and Bellas are on the steady rise.

Names are important, and this applies to our characters as well.  A character’s name comes to define them as much as our names define us.  So we have to give them the right ones.

Upfront, I’ll say I’m not a fan of putting excessive research behind character names, searching for names that reflect the personality and story that I’ve built for them – the names Malfoy (bad blood) and Katniss (belonging to an arrow) come to mind.  Perhaps for some authors, naming in this way creates a special link between them and their characters, as well as another layer of intrigue for readers to research, another way for them to get involved with the stories they love.  While uncovering these links can be interesting, I find such naming to be a little unrealistic.

Another method I’m not fond of, especially when it comes to writing fantasy, is making names up from nothing.  I really enjoyed all the Shannara books, but usually it was easy to tell (apologies to Terry Brooks if this isn’t the case) when a name had been pulled out of thin air.  Even if I like a character, if their name is hollow, if it feels like it’s not a real, I can only grow so close to them.  I’m not innocent of making up names – used to put any sounds I pleased together to do it, in fact.  Now I try to follow some kind of structure, and give characters from similar parts names that sound like they derive from the same language and culture – right now what I usually do is make names based on the Japanese alphabet but aren’t necessarily Japanese names, for example, Kero, Hari, and Narani.

When it comes to giving characters from our time and our world names, I’m not entirely sure how I go about it.  At least, not with the Western names.  A few minor characters I’ve named after friends, family, other fiction characters, and even after judges as a bribe during a choir talent competition.  For major characters, so far as I recall, I’ve chosen names that occurred to me while writing very basic plans.  Names that I like, and suit the bare bones of the character being shaped.  I should have been more careful, kept a log of my thoughts or something to that effect.  Not recalling the very basic origins of my characters in detail may be something I regret later in life.  But, as I said, in general this only applies to Western names.  My Japanese characters are an entirely different kettle of fish.

Every one of my Japanese characters has been named after someone, be it school student, teacher, friend, or anime character.  A protagonist called Miho was named for my sister Frannie’s host sister from the year I began work on her story.  Miho’s sister was named for the second Japanese student we hosted here in Australia, Anri.  Miho and Anri’s mother was named for Misato Katsuragi, the legendary Captain/Major from Shinseki (Neon Genesis) Evangelion.

I’d had all of these Japanese names for a while when one day during Speak Salon (Japanese class) my teachers began helping me choose the Kanji characters for each name.  I now have a long list of every single Japanese name in the story written in English, Romaji, and Kanji, which I hope to print in the back of the book should it be published.

For each name, my teachers gave me several options of Kanji, explaining the meanings behind each and how commonly they were used.  Near the end of this choosing process, we came across one of the loveliest little coincidence I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.  If it weren’t in truth a total coincidence, I probably wouldn’t have stood for it, given my little spiel before about unrealistic naming.  But this isn’t unrealistic at all.  I don’t think.  Not in real life.

Remember I mentioned a Miho?  Her Kanji look something like this:

Her sister Anri’s Kanji look like this:

And their mother Misato’s Kanji look like this:

Do you see?  Do you see even though my command of the paintbrush in Paint is abysmal?

Even though the pronunciation of one of the characters is different, one character from Misato’s name is used in each of her daughter’s.  The two have been unintentionally named for their mother.  This is actually a common practice in Japan, I believe – parents using their own Kanji in their children’s names.

I really liked that even though their names came from totally different sources, this special link between the three was created by accident through their Kanji characters, making them even more like a family.  This is probably the closest I will ever come to giving extra meaning to a character’s name.