The Bunker Diary
Penguin 2013, Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd
Quite a few critics were worried, when Brooks won the prestigious Carnegie Medal for this novel. Should young people be exposed to a story of kidnapping, torture and despair, which makes Emma Donoghue's Room 5 look like mild entertainment. The kids answered in their own way: 11-year-olds wrote rave reviews and the many among them who had actually watched movies like Saw and Hostel were not overly distraught by Brooks' thriller. After all, that's what we expect from him, isn't it?
The plot is fairly simple: 16-year-old Linus Weems, who was living on the streets of London after several fights with his very rich father, is kidnapped one day and awakes in a bunker that has six rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The only link to the world outside is an elevator – and the cameras in each room, even in the bathroom. As was to be expected, the rooms fill with people. Sweet 9-year-old Jenny, seemingly invincible junkie Fred, smart estate agent Anja, dislikable management consultant Bird, and dying philosopher Russell. You got it – it’s a motley group that has nothing in common but may be a parody of a reality TV show. The group is simply trying to survive in a very narrow world without hope while the kidnapper is playing God and dealing out punishments and little rewards. Escape seems impossible, there is no way of contacting the outside world – there is only the kidnapper who sometimes reacts to little notes they send him, sometimes not. Not surprisingly, the group gradually sinks into despair.
The most likeable character is Linus, to whom we owe this diary – even though we never learn how it got to us. He’s trying to keep the group together, he’s set on fair play, he’s keeping up hope as long as possible. And even though this very hope is dying, we keep reading an utterly compelling novel, because we keep hoping, too (with Linus mostly). The temptation to skip a few pages is there, not because we are bored but because we simply want to know what will happen, and what further nasty surprises the kidnapper has in store for his victims.
This is not a philosophical novel, not a metaphor turned narrative – it is simply what Brooks is good at: writing a gripping thriller, another nail biter that triggers speculation, maybe even some discussion among young adults. Job done, we say.