Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Allison Hewitt is Trapped is a novel which takes the form of blog posts. The posts are generally long, and it’s really much the same technique as telling a story through diary entries or letters, or any other first person medium. It’s fairly effective and allows some “feedback” from other characters to appear.
As the novel opens, Allison Hewitt is indeed trapped. Flesh eating zombies have attacked the bookstore where she works, and she and a few surviving staff and customers are hiding out in the secure room that houses the safes. She gets online to plead for help, although she has a strong suspicion there won’t be any. The little they can see through the security cameras suggests the entire town, not just the bookshop, was attacked.
Allison’s fears are confirmed; the zombies have swept America (indeed, the world, it later appears) and if she’s going to survive then it’s down to her and the people she has around her now. The novel is effectively the story of her struggle to find a place that is safe, and reasonably defensible in the long term. We know from the first couple of pages that she succeeds, but that doesn’t stop this being an extremely involving story.
It’s true there are some credibility issues with the plot. Most of them were associated with the timeline. Within days most forms of communication – the internet, landlines, and cell phones – have collapsed. And yet we know that the zombies didn’t wipe out the entire country in one go – in some places they had weeks of warning before the infection reached them. And since the zombies are largely interested in flesh, any infrastructure damage was incidental to people fighting them off. So surely some of those forms of communication would have lasted longer?
Similarly, I found the total disappearance of all forms of authority a tad hard to believe. Sure, it would probably happen in the places hit earliest. But you’re telling me that with weeks of warning, the American military wouldn’t have been gearing up to warn, defend, attack? That emergency plans wouldn’t have been implemented? That there wasn’t information on the news? None of this seems to have happened. It also seems to have spread almost instantly to other countries, including Europe, and again that stretched my belief a little without a credible explanation.
The other particularly obtrusive thing was that within a few weeks of the zombie attacks, the relatively small number of survivors are busily stealing food from each other. I find it hard to believe that the supplies of packaged food would have run down that fast in a large city that now has only a fraction of its previous populace.
Yet, despite all this, most readers will quickly get swept up in the plot. Allison is a really attractive character, and you’ll find yourself caring about her, and about the people she cares for. She’s not a superwoman, and her abilities and goals are the sort of thing that “ordinary” people can empathise with quite strongly. You’ll easily be able to picture yourself in her position, and as a result even though the first pages give a decent indication of the broad outcome for her, you’re still going to be very interested in the details.
A difficulty for me was that the Allison who replies to the comments on her blog sounds a completely different person to the one writing the main blog posts. For some reason the “voice” of the character changes completely and it sounded jarringly wrong, as there was no apparent reason for her to switch back and forwards. This tended to pull me out of the story a bit, as I found myself wondering if the responses to those posts were more Roux’s real voice. However, apart from this blip, the characterisations in the story were strong. Allison gets the most time, of course, being the viewpoint character. However, the people she comes across also generally come across as vivid and real characters, and in a lot of cases readers will find themselves caring about what happens to these people too.
Roux spends little time exploring the causes of the sudden zombie plague. I wasn’t too bothered by that, because it was perfectly realistic that Allison wouldn’t have much time to spend on that. Pretty much all her energy goes into surviving. And this is Allison’s story, not the broader story of what happened and why. Nor is she an “important” person who’s at the centre of events – her story is a smaller, more personal one, a story that reflects the situation most people would find themselves in. However, towards the end of the story she does give a passing indication of the cause. Some readers might be annoyed by not getting all the background, but I thought it fitted well with the tone of the story and didn’t detract from my enjoyment.
Allison Hewitt is Trapped is essentially a bit of a road trip story; it’s not heavy on plot and we know the broad outline of the straightforward story from early on. It’s still an emotionally engaging story, and what it lacked in suspense it made up for in outright interest. Another advantage of this novel is that it’s complete; it isn’t part of a trilogy or an epic series. You read it and you get the whole story. This is a good novel which a lot of people will enjoy; its’ success rests on the strong characters and emotional connections, but there’s an interesting plot and background there too.