Virus Paperback – 15 Nov 2007
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Langan has a sharp eye for the small vivid details of American life, and her characters are utterly believable. Reminiscent of early Stephen King, this is not the for squeamish (The Times)
Something lurking in the woods threatens to destroy an entire town in Sarah Langan's brilliantly crafted second novelSee all Product description
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Firstly, I found the back-cover to be slightly mis-leading. Reading it back after I'd fininshed the novel I guess it was a relatively accurate summary but "The Missing" is effectively a zombie/apocalypse novel & the cover doesn't really spell this out. It's also a very slow-read & took me until at least half-way through the book to "get into" it & even then I was never truly engrossed until perhaps the last 50 pages. Additionally, whilst not everyone wants a true hero to root for in a book, Langan seems to have decided that the reader will get quite the opposite & in doing so focuses on a group of characters who are anything but likeable. Whilst most novels of the horror genre naturally focus on evil, the reader is often provided with a likeable central character which helps bring a balance to the negativity but with Langan even the "heroes" of the novel have little good about them which makes for a pretty depressing read.
The writing itself was good with a decent plot but I feel that if the book's 400 pages was trimmed to around 300 the reader would have been rewarded with a far more enjoyable experience as once it's been established what is happening to the town in which the book is set, it's a lot of the same thing & a bit of a slog to the ending. My first & in all likelihood last Sarah Langan novel.
One major issue is the amount of characters and the devotion to describing them- there are so many introductions and so many pages detailing each individual back-story that the plot is forgotten and confusion sets in about which one the author is now describing. Sometimes whole chapters are devoted to character issues (The House Divided pp. 146) that have no apparent connection with the plot and are dull distractions at best. Frankly it seems self-defeating; the more time she spends writing about the characters the less I am interested in them and paradoxically the less distinctive they become. The author employs the `stupid name' gambit for added memorability: one of the leads is call Fenstad Winthob; another labours under the name Alfred Sanguine- no- those won't do.
All this makes for slow going, the plot when it surfaces is confused: a boy gets killed apparently (I thought that racoons ate him) but then he seems to appear as a ghost and then as a corporeal boy scavenging for food.
Then there are the plot `howlers': The woods of Bedford (the source of the weirdness) is only a `few miles' (easy walkable distance- many characters do so) from the town where all the characters live- and yet the kids who go there on a school trip: "...had never seen anything like this before."
Towards the middle of the book when half of the towns children are running wild in these woods no one in the town seems to have noticed, certainly not the main characters who sit around getting angry with each other over boyfriend troubles.
Langan seems to have a problem visualising time as well as distance. When one girl is being rushed at (pp 142):
"The distance closed Ten feet. Eight feet. Five feet. Displaced wind rushed against her as her mind fired off segmented thoughts like a string of firecrackers. What dark eyes you have she thought, and then: the better to swallow you with my dear. And: rah rah team! And finally: run. Run. RUN!"
....So a mad man is RUNNING at you, when he's 5 FEET AWAY (about 2 arm lengths) she thinks all those things and then she turns around and runs (successfully, for a while) away- WHAT!, has time stood still or something?
There are practical issues- how does one character, who- the day before- has been beaten up, thrown against a wall and broken an ankle (full plaster cast), make love enthusiastically and drive a car without complaint?
The author's writing is generally of a high standard yet some dialogue is improbable, one character says: "He didn't walk like a man"- is this really what someone would say? Some verbs seem wrong too: would a piece of china chipped off a plate really `cruise' past someone's ear as though at leisurely pace?
Unfortunately these drawbacks led me to abandon the book. I think the author needs to focus more on the story- a good editor might help.
The issue is not the plot itself, but the loose, scattered manner to which the author develops it. The pace is slow and action doesn't get going until the middle pages, but even then there is a feeling of the author needing to "fill pages". One chapter introduces a character beautifully. Page after page of descriptive text about her upbringing and torrid relationship with her alcholic father and the journey from nothingness to beauty queen. By the end of the chapter she's dead. Next! It's like a short story wedged in between two chapters and left me confused and cheated.
The story also jumps around from household to household and I found it very hard to become engrossed in a book that didn't allow me to build the characters as I was never 100% sure who was who.
Finally, if you are going to encompass a virus into a small town then keep it there. The talk of US Army surrounding the town and the virus spreading far and wide is unnecessary when there is no further information offered and the suggested world domination of the bug is dangled like a carrot but in no way followed up or developed.
I'm a big "zombie" fan, and the plot here is strong, but poorly executed.
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