Book: “Fellside” by M.R. Carey
Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description from Goodreads: Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It’s a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?
Review: My husband and I would consider ourselves ‘casual’ fans of the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black”. Casual in that we like it, but we never actually finished season 3 but will probably just dive headfirst into season 4. I’m a big enough fan that when I read about “Fellside” for the first time, my thought was ‘Oh wow, it’s like OITNB but it’s like a haunted prison or something!’ I will be the first person to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed by M.R. Carey’s other novel, “The Girl With All The Gifts”, but given that I love me a good ghost story and the women’s prison setting sounded intriguing, I knew that “Fellside” was going to be on my list of must reads. There are a lot of things you can do with a prison setting in terms of storytelling, and I was hoping that it would be ripe with possibilities in this book. I wasn’t completely wrong, but I also found myself sort of falling into the same trap as I did with “The Girl With All The Gifts”.
I want to give a little more background to this story than the Goodreads description did. Jess Moulson is a heroin addict who has been sent to Fellside Prison because she was convicted of starting a fire that killed a little boy named Alex. While in Fellside, she starts hearing the voice of a little boy who says he is Alex. She wants to atone for what she thinks she did, but then starts to find out that maybe it wasn’t her who was responsible for Alex’s death. Meanwhile, the prison system around her is festering with corruption, and a fellow inmate named Grace is basically running the joint through intimidation and violence. So you not only get a sad and gothic ghost story, you also get the thrills and fears of a prison drama. And I really do mean gothic. One of the things that I really liked about “Fellside” is that it does ready like a gothic novel, with a protagonist who is in an isolated setting in a large new environment (which is located on the goddamn moors for crying out loud), who may or may not be haunted. In terms of giving a new twist to a gothic tale, I think that Carey did a fabulous job. I also did like the prison setting for the most part, as it gave opportunities for a lot of very disturbing, and pretty darn political, truths about prison life. The violence inside, the way that the justice system fails some people who have no business being in such a place (there is one character named Naz who was a victim of human trafficking but ended up inside because she was basically seen as more a perp than a victim, and her story ends VERY tragically), and the way that those in power don’t care or purposely abuse their power are just a few of the themes that this book touched upon.
I think that one of the problems I had with this book was that some of those side stories didn’t do much for me as a whole. I wasn’t as invested in reading about how the warden was blackmailing the prison doctor into doing his bidding. I didn’t really care about the nurse who hates Jess for being a supposed child killer and yet has to care for her as dictated by her profession. I also didn’t understand the point of having one of Jess’ lawyers be in love (but more likely savior complex lust) with her, as I think that even without his romantic attachment to her he could have wanted to help his client. I thought that some of the supernatural systems, like Alex showing Jess how to leave her body and walk through other people’s minds and dream-scapes, weren’t as intriguing as I had hoped they would be. I think that had it been limited to Alex being able to do that instead of giving Jess that ability too, I would have been more okay with it, but as it was I just found that aspect to be the weakest of the ghost storyline.
For the most part I enjoyed my experience reading “Fellside”, as it did creep me out and it did surprise me. I liked it more that “The Girl With All the Gifts”, and it has convinced me to keep picking up books by Carey when they come out. I wonder if “Orange is the New Black” would consider ever adding a supernatural storyline. I mean, obviously not, but if they DID, they should look at “Fellside” for a good how-to guide.
Rating 7: A spooky read with some very political and important themes, but some of the side stories and mythology left me feeling a bit cold.
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