Wake by Elizabeth Knox, Victoria University Press, ISBN9780864737700, RRP $35
I have to confess: I have a huge reader and blogger crush on Elizabeth Knox. Not only has she given me some amazing and mind-blowing reads (Black Oxen, The Vintner’s Luck, the Dreamhunter series), she’s accomplished at that literary/genre/audience hopping trick AND she’s amazingly accessible and generous on social media.
Do I sound starstruck? I can’t help it. Elizabeth Knox is awesome. When I grow up I want to be exactly like her.
Anyway: Wake. Wake follows a small group of characters – people who survive a mysterious and sudden affliction that descends on their very localised area of Tasman Bay. The affliction turns the bulk of the population into crazed killers, singlemindedly and relentlessly focussed on harming themselves and others. The afflicted who survive this initial violence then also die suddenly. The unafflicted survivors find themselves locked in to the town by something entirely unexplainable. Locked in with literally hundreds of dead bodies, other people who they don’t know (and maybe can’t trust), and with no way of contacting or being contacted by the outside world.
The reader’s journey mirrors the characters’; the immediate and shocking horror of the story’s beginning followed by the slightly numb “come down” and then the dawning reality of the practicalities of the situation they find themselves in.
The beauty of Knox’s novel is not only is the story absolutely compelling from a plot point of view (zombies! gore! blood! love! mystery! childhood trauma! mental imbalance!) but the writing is absolutely bloody gorgeous.
It wasn’t his thought. It was malicious and perverted and savage and clever, and had come as a soundless whisper from the centre of his skull as if there was something inside him, something that wasn’t him, stirring like a hatchling in an egg.
Knox’s world is full of language, full of beautiful words, even when describing the most basest and hideous circumstances.
In a nearby house a window shattered. An old man slumped through it, skewering his throat on the shards left in the frame. He moved only feebly while his blood unfolded like a concertinaed red banner down the weatherboard wall.
In Wake, Knox takes us from inhuman all the way back to human. It’s not fun or easy but it is very, very exceptional.
I think I saved the best read of 2013 for the end.