Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

bunker diaryThe Carnegie Medal winner was announced this week as The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I watched the ceremony from the comfort of my office chair as it was Live Streamed on the internet. I’d read all the books, chosen my winner but stopped short of making a bet. Mostly because I have no idea how to bet. How I whooped and hollered when my favourite was picked. How gutted I was that I hadn’t worked out how to bet. Speeches were made, people said lovely things about children reading, about the importance of libraries and librarians. It was such a wonderful ceremony to watch. I raised my coffee cup in salute to them all, closed my browser and went back to work.

However, my little Monday afternoon tale doesn’t have such a happy ending. Instead of us all skipping off into the afternoon sunshine, happy that an amazing kids book had won a prestigious award, delighted that hundreds of people had watched this Live on the internet, rejoicing in the glorious world of children’s literature, me kicking myself for not betting… it all got a bit heated. Article after article has appeared this week, each seeming to need to outdo the previous in its shrill condemnation of the choice of The Bunker Diary as Carnegie winner. It was all a bit stressful and eventually I stopped reading. I’ll list them at the end.

The Bunker Diary is the story of Linus a miserable rich kid who has run away from home and ends up living on the streets. He stops to help a blind man and finds himself kidnapped and trapped in an underground bunker. When he comes to and explores his prison, Linus discovers there are six of everything. Six rooms, six plates, six notebooks, six pens. He’s alone. But one by one six people come down in the lift. All have been kidnapped. And all of them are now trapped. Linus finds cameras and microphones everywhere. They’re being watched.

His companions are a mixed bunch. First to arrive is nine year old Jenny and their relationship is very warm and protective. Linus takes on the role of big brother, looking out for her and trying to help her make the most of things. Fred and Anja arrive together. He’s a junkie and she’s in property. They couldn’t be more different or react more differently to their situation. Granted, Fred does have to go through a pretty nasty detox in his first few days in the bunker. Finally, Bird who works in the city and Russell who has a terminal illness complete the new family.

The Bunker Diary is an astonishing novel, beautifully written, utterly compelling. It is the perfect depiction of relationship and character development in extreme circumstances. These people are stripped back to their bare instincts. The drive to survive. They have nothing else to focus on and nothing else to want. Linus diarises their days and nights during the captivity and the increasing horrors they face. He shows how differently each character deals, or doesn’t deal with the situation they have been forced to endure. The whole novel is a fascinating depiction of the diversity human nature at its most basic.

This is definitely a harrowing and tense read at times. But it also has some wonderfully warm moments, particularly Linus’s protective relationship with Jenny and his obvious affection for wise, dying Russell.  The storyline is at times brutal and horrific, but no worse than most teen horror novels. It’s the ending that has everyone talking. I spent most of my time reading The Bunker Diary trying desperately to work out who had trapped them and why. And how were they getting out. I had all sorts of scenarios worked out and a few main suspects. I was totally wrong.

*Spoilers from now…*

To dwell on the controversies surrounding this book would do it a disservice, but I have to touch on it a little. The main complaint appears to be that, as with my Monday afternoon, it does not end well. Linus’s rich dad doesn’t come charging in with a hefty ransom payment for his freedom despite his dreams. The door to the bunker isn’t broken open by SWAT teams and none of their attempts as escape are successful. This seems to be a bad thing for kids. I’m not sure why the law of kids books says there has to be a happy ending. I would say it’s a good thing to learn that sometimes, in books as with life there isn’t one.


Further reading:

My review of The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks from 2008

The first post-Carnegie review in the Telegraph

The next day in the Telegraph…this time with the words vile and sickening, just to make sure we get the point

Slightly less shrill in The Guardian

And then authors give opinions

Feel free to Google more…

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve used to have full time job as a children's bookseller and she was the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love was definitely literature for children and teens, about which she has nerd-level knowledge. However she has since become involved in grown-up books and has co-written her first adult novel with Cath Murphy. Eve and Cath Podcast, blog and have far too much fun on their website Domestic Hell. Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website :

6 comments on “The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

  1. Jackie
    June 29, 2014

    So they don’t get rescued????
    I can see how critics might find this bleak, but “The Hunger Games” aren’t cheerful either, are they? This would present a lot of food for thought, readers wondering what they might do in such a situation, etc. I don’t think this would be appropriate for younger kids, but for tweens and teens, I think it would be Ok, depending on their personality.
    The beginning of this review was highly amusing and it’s really unfortunate that you missed betting on it, but still worthy of celebration.

  2. Just a little tech note to let you know your blog posts are coming through twice to Newsblur. Newsblur is the reader I use to subscribe to your rss feed. I’ve no idea how you can fix this problem but there is sure to be an answer on Google. Thank you for your blog.

  3. Eve Harvey
    June 30, 2014

    Haha Jackie…if only I’d worked it out 🙂 But no, it doesn’t turn out well for them. My teens absolutely loved it though, so there’s definitely a market out there for bleak, non-happy endings! xx

  4. Eve Harvey
    June 30, 2014

    Hi Diane, thanks for reading. I’ve had a look at your issue and I’m really sorry this is happening. Our feed seems to be going out fine and I’ve tested it on a number of other readers and it’s only posting once. I signed up with Newsblur and I do see it’s coming through twice on there, but I haven’t found a solution to the issue. I’m hoping they can tell me what’s going on. Thanks for letting me know.

  5. Annabel (gaskella)
    July 5, 2014

    I read this a couple of days after it won the award – wanted to see what the fuss was about. I thought it was superb, but even as an adult did find it shocking. I asked at school where I work and our Carnegie shadowing group at school (all 13yr boys) enjoyed it too it was their winner – they coped with its bleakness fine. I can’t help wondering whether it is time though for YA books to be separated out into a new category of Award – if only so we can champion more great literature for non-adult readers of all ages.

  6. Pingback: The Bunker Diary : Kevin Brooks | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

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This entry was posted on June 28, 2014 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: young adult and tagged , , , .



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