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Book Review: Inhuman situations uncover true humanity

Christina Collins Burton
Book Editor

Lights come on at 8 a.m. and turn off at midnight. The elevator brings food, death or nothing at all. Two months of nothing but going by someone else’s time.

For the six characters in Kevin Brooks’ latest book, this is their world. The journal entry style of “The Bunker Diary” puts readers into the mind of Linus, a 16-year-old drifter who was tricked into a van and woke up to being a stranger’s personal entertainment.

Even though the story has been done before in other books and movies, the plot is enjoyable. With about 320 pages, the entire book is easily a day’s read and sucks you in after about three journal passages. The story offers a lot of “what would you do” scenarios that will have you evaluating Linus’ interaction with people as the story progresses. Do not expect a lot of answers to your questions going into the story; Brooks seemed to go for a realistic scenario over the traditional “oops, the captor let this detail slip.” If readers are seeking a more grounded story then “The Bunker Diary” delivers.

The story opens with Linus giving the complete layout of his prison. They are in an underground bunker that is empty except for basic appliances: refrigerator, stove, toilet, shower, etc. In each room there is a bed, nightstand, Bible and journal. To help visual learners, there is even a crudely drawn map included. Thankfully the setting is pretty sparse and only needs to be mentioned once to fully sink in because the reader spends the entire book in the bunker with the characters.

Every room has a camera and microphone that is protected by a metal mesh. Any time any of the characters try to hit the mesh or cover the camera they were met with a spray of chemicals that burn their eyes. The elevator’s main door is also electrically charged for any other attacks people may plan. Hearing about Linus’ experience with these items would cause anyone to wince.

Before going into the main characters, something has to be said about the antagonist. He or She is never given a face or a name. Every abduction is different and the abductor is careful not to let the target see their face. At the beginning of the story he seems peaceful and just wanting to observe the day to day life of his captives. However, after the first escape attempt that peaceful persona is thrown out and replaced with a tyrant.

The other characters include a 9-year-old girl, a young realtor, a heroin addict, a rude businessman and an elderly physicist. Each has a drastically different personality and demonstrates different coping mechanisms to help deal with being locked in a bunker. As we see Linus breakdown, he also tells us about all of the other characters slowly becoming husks as well.

This point of view is actually ideal versus a third person describing their every move. If the audience was present in the bunker as a character, this would be their point-of-view.

Russell, the elderly physicist, serves almost as a Jiminy Cricket character for Linus. As soon as he arrives he takes in the bunker as much as he can and gives the characters more information about what building they are being held hostage in. His calm demeanor and different perspective grounds the characters when they start throwing accusations. It roots for the reader a father figure for this bunker of misfits.

Linus is an interesting main character. When he was abducted, he was living on the streets of London. The only thing readers are told is that he had a guitar on him and the guy that tricked him was pretending to be blind and played on Linus’ kind nature. While there is mild concern for unreliable narrator with the story, as a reader there is not much of a choice but to believe him. Especially because after awhile it felt as though the diary was swiped from Linus’ bedside.

Just like any real journal, Linus does not feel the need to explain events that happened in his life. His logic is that he already knows what happened, so why restate them in a journal. This way the reader slowly gets to discover his back-story and who he is as a person as he goes through emotional breakdowns.

The book does not have an overall theme that you can be left with, but it does offer a lot of self reflection. Several times in the book Linus calls out for “you” to help him understand why he is in this position. Writing his journal entries starts to wear him down and he breaks the fourth wall reaching out to the reader for a purpose as to why he keeps documenting everything. At one point it felt as if we were meant to be the captors that were torturing these innocent people.

Honestly, the most dramatic chapter in the book has to be later on in the story when the characters have had food confiscated from them for trying to escape. After a couple days he finally gives them more food which he has drugged. From there readers are treated to a drugged rambling from Linus as he tries to write out all of his thoughts before he forgets. The drugged passages lack punctuation, a train of thought and rarely any real words.

Illustration by Jacob Bogdanoff

Illustration by Jacob Bogdanoff

One thing that can be said about this story is that it will leave an eerie silence. Whether the story is read in one day or broken up over the course of a week, nothing really prepares you for the ending. Yes, anyone can guess what happens, but actually getting to that last page is an entirely different feeling.

This story should be entertaining for anyone who is into self-reflection and suspense. Readers will be spending a lot of time inside someone’s private thoughts and it may arise some uncomfortable realizations about the way people act every day.

Kevin Brooks’ “The Bunker Diary” is available on Amazon for the Kindle for $10.14 and is available through smaller book distributors starting at $12 and below.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at christina.burton@laverne.edu.

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