Monday, January 18, 2021

Review: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Title: Survivor Song
Author: Paul Tremblay
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781785657863
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: 7 July 2020
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher

When it happens, it happens quickly.

New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.

But paediatrician Ramola Sherman can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls – her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.

Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.

Survivor Song is not a zombie novel. Not in the traditional sense. Paul Tremblay takes the traditional zombie and transforms it into terrifying reality. There are no shambling armies of undead to be seen; instead there is something far more horrifying - an outbreak of a highly virulent strain of the rabies virus. Not only is the virus fatal, it turns the infected into homicidal monstrosities with an overwhelming compulsion to bite.

From the very beginning you are drawn into a world that is far too similar to our current reality. It’s that sense of familiarity and foreboding that had me hooked. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished reading it in a frenzied eight hour long reading session. And it was worth it.

When reading Survivor Song it’s easy to believe that Paul Tremblay has the ability to predict the future. While the pathogen depicted in the novel is far more terrifying and deadly than COVID-19 the response to the epidemic mirrors our current reality to an eerie degree. Tremblay manages to hit all the marks - the fear and uncertainty of quarantine, the lack of PPE and adequate knowledge, the collapse of overwhelmed medical services and even conspiracy theories and the appearance of armed patriots patrolling the streets in makeshift militias. It’s truly uncanny.

“In the coming days, conditions will continue to deteriorate. Emergency services and other public safety nets will be stretched to their breaking points, exacerbated by the wily antagonists of fear, panic, misinformation; a myopic, sluggish federal bureaucracy further hamstrung by a president unwilling and woefully unequipped to make the rational, science-based decisions necessary; and exacerbated, of course, by plain old individual everyday evil.”

The novel provides a brief window into the lives of two friends as they struggle to survive through the epidemic. Dr Ramola Sherman comes to the aid of Natalie, her pregnant friend, after she survives a brutal attack by an infected man. The entirety of the story spans the hours after the attack and the implications of its aftermath. The unwavering friendship between Rams and Natalie is the driving force behind the narrative and while the circumstances are dire and increasingly bleak there are also moments of levity between the old friends that offer a welcome respite. You know things aren’t going to end well, yet you can’t help but to hold out hope until the very last moment.

This is a story of a personal horror told exceptionally well. The horror doesn’t come from a monster shambling in the dark. The true horror lies in the emotional toll of survival, the impermanence of being, in the helplessness against a disease that can’t be fought with bullets, in the realisation that the systems and institutions you rely on to protect and save you have utterly failed when you need them the most.

Survivor Song is unconventional horror at its best. Tremblay manages to turn even a blank page into a devastating blow straight to the heart. A truly heart-wrenching read. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

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