Author: M. R. Carey
Rating: 4/5 stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
I was positively gleeful when I received my copy of Fellside in the mail, being a huge fan of M. R. Carey’s first book: The Girl With All The Gifts. Comparing the two work is a pointless task, as they’re completely separate entities. Yet, Fellside retains the element I loved most from Girl: an unsettling glimpse into humanity’s psyche – especially at our lowest point.
While I was reading Fellside, I could not help but be reminded of Orange Is The New Black – another story which analyses the lives of women in confinement. Although Fellside is Jess Moulson’s story first and foremost, we also delve into the thoughts of the prison’s various inmates and staff members. These are all people who have made some terrible choices in the past, at times – they’re downright despicable. Nonetheless, their animal-like survival instinct, compounded with their undeniable humanity makes for a compelling, if at times harrowing read. In spite of my disdain for certain residents in Fellside, these characters are recognisable through their very human errors and greed.
Although Fellside belies a tale of humanity’s triumphs and tragedies, the story which propels it forward is a dramatic thriller. Jess Moulson is incarcerated for the death of 10-years-old Alex Beech, she supposedly set fire to her apartment complex while under the influence of heroin. Prior to these events, Jess’s life was already falling apart – she was a long-term junkie stuck in an abusive relationship. Alex’s death was the final nail in her coffin, and Jess succumbs to shame and guilt, completely willing to be arrested for this crime despite having no recollection of the night’s events. For the first third of the novel, Jess also loses her will to live – and it takes the ghost of Alex to push her back from the precipice. His ghost empowers Jess towards the path of redemption and justice.
Jess quickly becomes married to her new cause, and she serves as an excellent foil to the rest of the cast – who have long lost their own moral compass. Even though Jess encounters a plethora of physical and emotional violence during her time in Fellside, she remains true to her newfound integrity. M. R. Carey never strays to being preachy, instead – Jess’s resolve stay solidly earnest – devoted to her cause in a way only someone given a second chance at life could be. Her encounters with the corruption within Fellside is at once provoking and intimate – making readers question the true meaning of justice.
The other characters, while never as sympathetic as Jess, are equally compelling. There’s the formidable and ruthless Grace, who maintains an iron grip over her fellow inmates – and will go to all lengths necessary to keep her metaphorical throne. Grace is backed by the volatile and savage Lizzy, who’s brutality conceals a haunting past. Then there’s Dennis Devlin, aptly named The Devil by inmates of Fellside, he gives a new definition to the phrase ‘power corrupts’. Dr. Salazar drew from me both pity and disappointment, a good man who falls into line systematic corruption – his flaws are entirely too human to be comfortable. Minor characters such as Sharon McBride and Sylvie Stock are also given life of their own albeit their short page-time. The characters play in concert to deliver a tale that will at once provoke and resonate.
Fellside also incorporates a healthy dose of supernatural elements into its plotline. In fact, it’s Alex’s ghost who ultimately drive the story forward and challenge the residents of Fellside. His presence provides much-needed introspection in a space mired with distrust and cruelty. As Jess’s sole companion in Fellside, most of her character development takes place during her metaphysical conversations with Alex. Notwithstanding these fantastical elements, the story remains grounded in reality – most of the horror perpetrated in the novel are works of the living.
My account of Fellside might leave you thinking the book is as grim and uninviting as the maximum security prison where it’s set. However, Jess’s bleak circumstances gives rise to an ultimately uplifting story about redemption. While Jess’s defense lawyers fight for her release from Fellside – Jess is after a different sort of freedom. She seeks to unburden from her past and deliver justice on her own terms. In the process, Jess proves time and again that people are not always what they seem.
With Fellside, M. R. Carey proves that he’s a chameleon, able to juggle a multitude of genres expertly. Although Fellside was completely different from The Girl With All The Gifts – both books left me pondering long after I turned the final pages.