On reading: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

Title: Survivor Song

Author: Paul Tremblay

From the back: 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.

The gist: If you’ve not read a Tremblay book yet then you need to remedy that immediately. Go and pick any of his back catalogue and dive straight in. I could totally stop the review there to be honest, firstly because you’ll be busy reading his books and won’t want interrupting, and secondly because you’ll undoubtedly agree that Tremblay is right up there with the best horror writers about.

Tremblay is one of my go-to authors, one of my insta-gets. His books are addictive, the type of writing you can drown in and that haunts you long after you’ve finished reading. The Cabin at the End of the World was nigh on traumatic, in a beautiful, brutal, searing kind of way.

And Survivor Song, taking a slice of panic, horror and heartbreak set during a rabies(-like) outbreak, is no exception.

Tremblay has a way of getting you to know the characters, to feel their emotional turmoil—feelings are never straightforward, characters are the shades between the good and the bad, their flaws make them real and raw. There’s an honesty behind the characters that isn’t about telling lies or half-truths, it’s about showing and sharing the rough edges that everyone is made of. And so even though you’re not in the book, somehow it almost feels like you are.

And I defy you to read Natalie’s voice-recordings to her unborn child and not get something in your eye.

The bulk of the book only spans a short period of time, in which there’s violence, gore, death and tears, but also friendship, heroes and a touch of comedy (let’s just say don’t call them zombies). It’s tempting to file Survivor Song in with other apocalyptic-style books, but this is really a slice of a moment. It’s a cutting from a time that is not about the end of the world, but about a huge change, an end or a beginning, for the central characters. It’s about the experience of horror on an individual level. It’s a personal story, horror on a small scale that hits big.

I won’t say too much more because this is a book you should just go ahead and lose yourself in. Pencil in a day or two with it because you won’t want to put it down.

Then you might need a day or two more to recover.

Favourite line: They are afraid of saying something that will make them more afraid.

Read if: You want a slice of horror that cuts a chunk of time out of the world and places it in your mind as if it were part of your own memories.

Read with: Your front door locked, and your groceries safely stowed away.

Get it: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

ARC gratefully received from Netgalley and Titan Books

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