Carnegie Nominee Review: ‘The Bunker Diary’ by Kevin Brooks

Ever read ‘Room’? Now imagine four more people in that room, and that instead of sex and control, the person just wants to play a game. There you have ‘The Bunker Diary’. 

16 year old Linus Weems is caught unawares by a man pretending to be blind; after being drugged and bundled into a van, Linus wakes to a modernised war bunker, and is soon joined by a nine year old girl, then four adults later on. If they ask for food, it might arrive; if they try to outwit their captor, punishments ensue. 

This is one of those books that is as captivating as it is repellant. You finish and put it as far away from you as possible, but can’t stop thinking about the complex yet futile psychopathic motives underlying Linus’ situation. The only confirmation that we have within this book is that there’s a man, and he is in full control of every possibility – we don’t know his name, his motivation, anything. And that’s what’s scariest; facing the unknown. The lift is a brilliant symbol of this; it will follow the time schedule, but what it contains is a mystery – it could literally be the difference between life and death. It’s one of those horrific voyeuristic situations; it gets to a stage where you are compelled to read because you’re safe and it couldn’t possibly reach you, it’s almost a cheap thrill to gain an insight into this psychopathic situation. 

The most fascinating thing, as normally is in these types of novels, is the character relationships. You get your six stereotypes: innocence, bravery, selfishness, selflessness, recklessness, foolishness. None of these fit together properly, and its the clashes that are captivating to watch unfold. You know who the bad guy is and who is working for the good of the group, and their interactions have you picking sides and considering what ethics and morality are within such extremities. 

The only dubious thing about this book is it’s classification as young adult, and indeed its participation within the Carnegie award – ranging from offensive language to barbaric cruelties, this book is heavy-going, and only our sixteen year old narrator mediates the information in a way that might be thought-provoking for older teens. The plot demands frankness and we get it, but sometimes this is perhaps too stark a reality for younger teenage readers. 

But then, shouldn’t our own concepts of morality be challenged and tested? Despite audience qualms, this is a thoroughly interesting book and shows a unique skill in making the mundane nature of Linus’ imprisonment and a lack of motivational understanding and making it into something that mystifies and horrifies in equal measure. 

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One thought on “Carnegie Nominee Review: ‘The Bunker Diary’ by Kevin Brooks

  1. I find myself unnerved simply from your review. Voyeurism, cruelty, incarceration – already a sickening recipe of fear and total submission to the depraved will of another. I know there is a fan base for the dark and the macabre, and I suppose no subject should be exempt from scrutiny in an open, modern world. Such cruelty and manipulation exists, there are real life examples everyday. I share your concern at this being categorised as a book for young adults. In the US in particular there are so many examples it seems of tortured teenagers going on the rampage, one hopes that one of them doesn’t see this as a template for their adolescent rage! I don’t have the stomach for this type of open surgery on the human psyche, it is far scarier than any murder mystery or suspense story. As you say maybe literature is as good a place as any to challenge our morality and sensibility. Some say that art imitates life, some say the reverse, maybe age and worldly cynicism dictate my view that they’re horribly and inextricably muddled, but then again what do I know? I am a person, as a child, that hid behind the settee during episodes of Dr. Who – perhaps I’m not suited to seeing how ugly the human condition can be. I enjoyed your review, thank you.

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