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 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.
Feel free to Google more…