Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.
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From the cover:
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It's not the kind of place you'd want to end up. But it's where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.
It's a place where even the walls whisper.
And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.
Will she listen?
The first pages provide a nice set up with potential for twists and falls. The fact that, within the first couple of paragraphs, the MC, Jess Moulson, is painted as an unreliable narrator makes it a surety.
Carey’s writing style is very cinematic with special attention paid to the stark contrast between Fellside prison and the Other Place. This makes for interesting scenes and bright visuals, lessening the impact of a daunting near-500 pages.
The Best of it:
There’s a running (almost) joke that it’s a writer’s job to bash their main characters with as many dangers and roadblocks as possible. The author is his character’s worst enemy be design and Carey took this job seriously.
Jess is not given an easy climb. In fact, her journey is a bit like climbing Everest, without a coat or gear or food, knowing full well it’s impossible, but doing it anyway because the ground is on fire and staying behind is just as dangerous. Jess seems doomed from the beginning, either by her own hand or the eager hands of others (but mostly her own). Despite all the reasons we shouldn’t (and probably wouldn’t in any other case) the reader cares because Jess proves herself from the get-go to be an honorable person. An audience will always root for well-placed honor.
The Worst of it:
Thanks to shows like Orange is the New Black and Wentworth (its British counterpart), today’s pop culture is awash with the novelties, complexities, and uniqueness of the female prison system. Thanks to the television shows, the novelty was lost for me. I might be on my own in saying that I’m not a fan of these shows and, as such, went into FELLSIDE, once I realized its real premise, with a bit of a prejudice. I felt robbed.
Tied into this, the kingdom of Harriet Grace—primo prisoner—feels like a disconnect within the book, taking the fire away from who brought us to the book in the first place: Jess and Alex.
Finally, continuous interruptions at scenes with the highest tension to interject passive motive demonstratives are distracting and frustrating.
Yeah, But What if it Were a Movie?
Jess was a hard one to cast, but in the end I settled on Emily Blunt. Her sworn enemy, Miss Harriet Grace, would be none other than Kathy Bates. This actress never holds back and someone as intense as Grace needs fire behind her voice. Her on-again, off-again, Devlin (affectionately—or not so affectionately—called “Devil”) I see as Billy Bob Thornton. He’s attractive in a “maybe in prison” sort of way and could pull the douche-bag persona off with aces. Burly Liz Earnshaw was, in my mind, Lea DeLaria. And the medical staff—Sylvie and Salazar—would be played by Eva Green and Kevin Spacey, respectively.
I couldn’t cast Alex for reasons that are of the spoilery nature.
Subtlety is the key to winning my reader heart. Carey’s subtle push into the supernatural real of the Other Place constantly keeps the reader wondering whether it’s real or all in our MC’s head, despite the evidence to the former. While reading FELLSIDE, we don’t know whether to take the dream world at face-value or fall face-first into the unknowable abyss. We all hear voices sometimes; how many of us think—just for a minute—that they might be real?
I closed this book feeling like I’d read something completely different than when I first opened it. Different good or different bad, I don’t think is my place to say. My perception is skewed by the prejudice listed above.
On the whole, FELLSIDE is an intense look at privatized prisons and what could, and probably does, happen there. Not all of it is pleasant. Most of it is bloody.
I don’t think I got to know Jess as well as I would have liked, though, and maybe that was the author’s intent—to leave the reader with a small piece of regret to use in whatever way we see fit. Hopefully, as Jess did, for something good.