This is what I know.
The intensity of Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary is astounding as he unveils a dark, claustrophobic world seen through the eyes of one lone voice. This is a gripping novel that becomes something to endure, not necessarily enjoy, as you witness the nightmare-inducing situation of Brooks’ characters and discover what it means to survive in a hopeless situation. In a competition not unfamiliar to crowning the controversial, this unique novel stands a good chance in claiming the prize as it pushes the boundaries of the acceptable within children’s literature.
This is the diary of the sixteen year-old runaway Linus Weems who finds himself inexplicably trapped in a disused nuclear bunker, kidnapped by an unknown man for an unknown purpose. As time passes he is joined by five other stolen souls that fill the six-cell cage as they are all forced into the role of observed lab-rats with no tangible means of escape.
Dealing with issues of control, torture, helplessness and survival the characters of The Bunker Diary are stripped bare when taken away from their social surroundings and statuses and placed within a controlled environment where primitive instinct is their only hope. Brooks lists Lord of the Flies and The Collector among his influences, detailing an interest in fictional attempts to understand human nature outside of a recognised world and The Bunker Diary plays with this concept effortlessly.
The unbelievable intensity of the novel is grounded in the creation of a claustrophobic narrative. The environment in which the events occur and the format in which those events are described are limited, thereby restricting audience understanding. None of the direct plot happens outside of the four walls of the bunker, we are only reminded of an outside world through character reflections or memories, and the only direct voice we ever hear is Linus’. The choice of diarised narrative is exceptional in creating an immediate connection to a lost boy who was looking for a purpose and instead found a predicament and through him the audience is able to experience just how out of control his controlled environment becomes.
I really admire what Brooks is doing with this novel and I think he is incredibly successful in creating a controversial and unsettling story about the power of the human survival instinct. It is has the chilling quality that is key to a successful psychological thriller and makes it absolutely unputdownable. The lack of reason or answers is what I found the most unnerving, graphic content aside, with the unresolved ending being particularly harrowing and unsatisfying to a reader clamouring for understanding. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I therefore wonder how many words the blank pages at the end of The Bunker Diary are worth.