Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Bunker Diary, by Kevin Brooks

Wow. What can I say about The Bunker Diary? It’s captivating, intriguing, excellently written and, yes, very disturbing. (NB. This review includes minor spoilers in paragraphs 4 and 5)

Linus, the author of this diary, is trapped in a place with no windows, no doors; the only way in or out is the lift. Six rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, each one lined with cameras and microphones; each one triggered to spurt gas or give an electric shock if they’re tampered with, or if escape attempts are made. The Man Upstairs watches everything and controls everything with a God-like power.

As the days go by, Linus and his five bunk-mates have to figure out a way to live with each other and work out the rules of the bunker; if they work together will they find a way to escape? As his diary racks up the days, Linus has a lot of time to think about things, about where he came from, how he got here, about time and the human condition. And as his diary racks up the days, the Man Upstairs tests his inmates and in a myriad of ways - how far is this man willing to go?

The Bunker Diary raises all sorts of interesting questions, not least about the Man Upstairs and what levels of psychological torture humans are willing to endure. It’s between two and three weeks into his capture that Linus starts referring to his kidnapper with capital letters - He, the Man - which is also around the same time that he realises this man has been playing with time. Everything in the bunker is seemingly controlled by the clock on the kitchen wall - the life comes down at 9 o’clock in the morning, and back up at 9 o’clock at night. The lights come on when the clock says it’s 8 a.m. and they go off when it says it’s midnight. But what if the clock isn’t accurate? What if the man speeds it up or slows it down willy nilly? Linus suddenly realises he has absolutely no control over his life at all down here - not even the little things - and how he genuinely is one hundred percent at the mercy of this man. It is only inevitable, then, that he should begin to take on God-like proportions for those trapped beneath him.

The main questions I found myself asking was why? What are the kidnapper’s intentions? Is he just a creepy guy who finds pleasure in others’ pain, or is it some kind of creepy psychological experiment to see how people behave in the most inhuman of circumstances? It has tinges of the ‘Saw’ series of horror films, especially as the kidnapper  starts to play games with his occupants, not only playing with time, but turning the heat up and down, drugging their food, gradually adding in progressively more sinister tricks as the time ticks by. And the ending? Does he get arrested for the evidence of their kidnap that eventually makes it to the surface? Does he simply lose interest in them? Will he repeat the ‘experiment’ in the future with a new set of occupants?

Linus’s back story is subtly revealed through his diary’s pages, alongside the daily events in the bunker - though I have to wonder what is left out of his account, because the reader knows for a fact that, in his fear that the man is watching, Linus doesn’t tell us everything. I particularly like, though, his musings on time and how time works, and what it means to be a living and thinking organism - the latter of which is particularly reflective of the ‘challenges’ the kidnapper is putting him through. As time passes his thoughts become more disparate, more muddled, more philosophical, and it becomes harder to separate yourself from the story - instead of standing on the edge looking in, you start to wonder what you would do if you were there, in his shoes, thinking his thoughts. How would you behave? What would you be trying to do? How scared would you be? And this, of course, just makes reading it a creepier and creepier experience.

The Bunker Diary is harrowing and uncomfortable - and, although classed as a teenage book, it is definitely not suitable for younger readers in this age group. But with characters to root for and root against, all the ups and downs, the questions asked, the thoughts transmitted, it’s an outstanding piece of storytelling.


  1. Why would it be un suitable?

  2. Hi Rebecca, I personally wouldn't recommend it to, say, those under maybe 14 or 15, or sensitive readers. This is because, as I mention in the review, although it's a fantastic book, it is quite harrowing; the story of a kidnapped boy, held against his will and put through tests of endurance/torture, it is psychologically quite traumatic. Very nasty stuff happens. A completely amazing piece of writing, and I'm really happy to see it on this year's Carnegie Medal shortlist, but I'm in my 30s and it freaked me out in some places, so I just wanted people to be aware of that before choosing whether it would be suitable for themselves or their intended reader.