Fellside

May 28, 2016 - 10:47 am No Comments

Author: M.R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Page Count: 486pp
Release Date: 7th April 2016
Reviewer: Steve Cotterill

M.R. Carey’s second novel, Fellside, comes hot on the heels of The Girl With All the Gifts, his zombie near future novel. Carey, of course, is better known to fans of the genre as Mike Carey, the author of the Lucifer comics series, and the Felix Castor novels, and while the reader will detect a definite strengthening of his prose style, the ‘Carey’ voice is familiar and welcoming.

The novel follows Jess Moulson, the so called Inferno Killer, as she is convicted of murder and shipped to a private prison on the Yorkshire moors, Fellside. From the start the feeling of Gothic seeps into prison, a vast, unknowable place that is only humanised by the people using it, whether that’s the petty foibles of the prisoners and guards or the colloquial names the prisoners have applied to the different wings of the prison. Like the Gothic castle too, the past of Fellside presses on the present, and there are secrets to uncover. When Jess nearly dies, she encounters something else, an unquiet spirit that refuses to rest and asks for help.

Despite the presence of the ghost, who guides and helps Jess, and who torments the prisoners, this is a very human horror story, a story of addiction, and corruption. Carey paints a picture of how dirty the prison is, from the illicit trades to the casual violence, made all the worse by the fact that Fellside is a women’s prison; he cuts against our perceived wisdom that women are kinder, gentler beings by making the prisoners crude, violent, thuggish, and ultimately very human. The warders and medical staff are just as flawed, only the Governor is held up as being able to keep his hands clean, mostly because he is a remote figure who scarcely seems to be in touch with his own prison.

As Jess’ story continues, from medical centre, to prison cell, to court as she appeals against the judgement she is forced to be a part of this world, to deal with the problems that it throws at her, and to try to survive as the corruption threatens to overwhelm her. It is perhaps to Carey’s credit that he makes no attempt to spare her feelings, or to make her in any way tough. She’s intelligent, determined, and highly imaginative, but she also gets beaten up a lot. Carey makes you care about her, my heart was in my mouth during the appeal hearing and I almost cried at her actions at the end of the trial.

It is hard to feel as sympathetic for the other chief protagonist in the novel, Liz Earnshaw. A lifer, and an incredibly violent woman, who despite a history of abuse, is never really portrayed sympathetically and acts as a lieutenant, servant, and general leg breaker, for the maximum security wing’s Boss, Grace. For much of the novel she is presented as Rotweiller, a weapon to be used against the weaker members of the wing, and it is only late in the day that you realise, as a reader, that her story is unfolding in front of you.

Fellside is a powerful novel, one full of pathos and emotion. The Gothic setting adds to its power, and to the theme of corruption that runs through it. The structure of the book lets it down on occasion, chapters feeling too bitty at times, as if they could use a bit more meat, but in the large construct of the novel, they work well, keeping the narrative moving. Despite this I found the short chapters sometimes felt as if they could be integrated into another chapter, and that leaving them out on their own felt unnecessary. The other fault I would pick is that it feels as if part of Jess’ potential wasted, there’s something we’re told about but it never really feels as if we’re allowed to see it properly, despite it being presented as a linchpin of who the character is.

Despite this I would recommend Fellside to anyone who likes a more Gothic type of horror, with strong female characters and a good pace.

Steve
Writer and Blogger
My blog is here: http://shoresofnight.blogspot.com/
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