By Marty Mulrooney
Allison Hewitt Is Trapped is the debut novel from Madeleine Roux, which originally appeared online as an experimental fiction blog (and can still be found at http://helptheyarecoming.wordpress.com). It tells the story of Allison Hewitt, who finds herself trapped along with her co-workers at a Brookes & Peabody bookstore when a zombie apocalypse breaks out. Working together, they must survive attacks from both the undead and their fellow human survivors, finding their place in a dark new world…
They are coming.
They are coming and I don’t think we will ever get out. If you’re reading this, please call the police. Call them now; call the cops if there are any cops left to call. Tell them to come find me. I can’t promise we’ll be here tomorrow or the day after, or the day after that, but tell them to rescue us before it’s too late. Tell them to try.
Not only did Allison Hewitt Is Trapped originally appear in the form of frequent blog posts online, but the story itself cleverly acknowledged this medium. Each post was written as if Allison herself was furiously typing away at her laptop, updating the world – that is, what’s left of it – about her constant struggle in a zombie-infested city. It could have almost been posted from a parallel universe. The book version takes all of the content from the original blog – roughly half of the story presented here – and tidies it up, before adding a lengthy second half and conclusion. The chapters are not explicitly named as such, kept instead exactly like blog posts, each with an accompanying date and title. There are also comments – supposedly posted by other survivors – featured at the end of each chapter.
Of course, the fact that the reader will have a book rather than a computer in their hands whilst reading Allison’s story could have proved slightly distracting and somewhat ruined the immersion, so the novel has been bookended with two letters. I won’t spoil the final one, although I can reveal that the first is from a professor who, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of ‘The Outbreak’, recreates Miss Hewitt’s blog by contacting the Web provider hosting her story. Let her stand as a symbol of the public’s struggle, to give a face to the faceless masses, and to endure as an example of the dear cost of survival. Her story, I think, is worth remembering too.
Then there was a little flash of red in the corner of my vision. It was the ax, the dear, beautiful ax with its highly polished, gleaming handle and red, curved head. It was so bright, so perfectly red, like a new coat of lipstick just before a night out. There was a hard little hammer hanging down next to glass case – BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. Fucking hell, I thought, this certainly applies.
If you’re a fan of zombies – and there has certainly never been a better time to be one (a fan that is, not a zombie) – Allison Hewitt Is Trapped will feel like comfortable, familiar territory. There are plenty of zombies, plenty of gore and even – no real surprise here – a taken-in dog that soon becomes a faithful companion. What makes the story, if not unique, at least different is the hero herself: Allison Hewitt. There is something oddly compelling about a character who reaches the end of the world as we know it and still can’t stop updating her blog. The potential plot-hole of the Internet being active in such dire times is taken care of with the mention of SafetyNet, the military’s emergency, nationwide Internet service.
The opening chapters of Allison Hewitt Is Trapped are undeniably brilliant, with Madeleine Roux’s strong writing evoking some truly epic mental images as Allison and her co-workers continually sneak into the bookshop beyond the storeroom where they are living to gather supplies. Each supporting character is well-rounded and Allison makes for a wise-cracking, likeable protagonist and narrator. However, the fact that she is blogging after the fact often takes away much of the tension from the story – after all, she must have survived her latest adventure, right? Otherwise, how would she be able to write about it? When the story eventually moves out of the bookstore it becomes slightly more generic and suffers as a result: this is a well written story that has been told many times before. It makes a nice change that Allison is looking for her mother rather than a helpless child, but otherwise the story doesn’t travel down many unfamiliar avenues and the action often lacks punch, or suddenly goes in completely the opposite direction and ends up feeling too far-fetched.
My hands were locked so tightly around the ax I could feel my knuckles creaking with rage. If I didn’t hold it tight, it would slip right out of my grasp from the sweat. I put the lighter in my mouth, and it was heard to breathe and swing, but I managed. The apartment was filling up and the sound was astounding – screeching and groaning, a whole buffet’s worth of hungry, angry, desperate undead shoving themselves through the door. They were tearing at each other just trying to get to us.
In the end, Allison Hewitt Is Trapped offers a great read for zombie fans. The transition from web blog to novel isn’t always as smooth as it could have been, but Allison as a character provides more than enough incentive to read on even when the story itself runs through a weak patch. The way that Madeleine Roux has managed to take a fictional blog and update it into a full length book is admirable. Her characters always feel genuine – there is even a romantic subplot that never becomes too chick-lit or cheesy – and she avoids wrapping everything up at the end in a neat little bow. The sequel – Sadie Walker Is Stranded – is being released early next year and I certainly think there is great potential for this universe to be expanded upon and further explored.
8 OUT OF 10
Allison Hewitt Is Trapped was released on the 24th November 2011 and is available at all good book shops.