Fiction Reviews


Bite

(2016) K. S. Merbeth, Orbit, £8.99/ Can$11.99 / US$9.99, pbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-316-30870-0

 

Alone in a post-apocalyptic world with little in the way of survival skills, no family or resources, Kid, the central character, accepts a lift from some strangers and is drawn into a world of raiding and close calls, and her life is changed forever.

Kid does not have too many choices when she comes across Wolf and Dolly, who happen to be traversing across the desert in search of places to trade their wares and turn a profit without getting killed along the way. While unsure of them Ė Wolf with his dishevelled appearance and Dolly with her electric blue hair and cool demeanour Ė she tags along and finds herself involved some very unsavoury trades indeed. Wolf and Dolly are known as sharks, who are known for eating and trading in human flesh, but given that there are barely any animals left after the nuclear war that decimated the world, if one wants meat that is the only flesh they will get.

The story is written from the first person perspective and in a very readable style. Kid (and that is the name she is known as) is sixteen and has ended up alone fending for herself, but by joining her new companions, is thrust into situations where she finds herself learning the kind of skills she will need to survive. Not everything goes right for her and her new friends along the way Ė in fact, barely anything goes right and they have to make the best of a lot of bad situations often escaping more by luck than judgement.

The pivotal characters make for a refreshing change as a focal point as rather than being heroes, they could very much be seen as villains, trying to take what they can, but given their motivations and scenarios they find themselves in, their actions seem justified. The story also takes on board a particular taboo, that being cannibalism, and provides a different take on it where itís a distasteful part of society but given the sheer lack of resources left, has its place. Kidís introduction to this is done in such a way that the situation she is is becomes understandable Ė it becomes a question of doing the unthinkable or going hungry.

There is a sense of realism in the book as well Ė people taking what canned food is still available, at times not knowing what is in the cans, the scarcity of water and the nature of townships and the long treks between them. Everyone is out for themselves by necessity as opposed to choice and doing what they can to survive. It is because of this that Kidís new friends refuse to use their real names, as do other members of their little gang who join along the way Ėnamely Pretty Boy and Tank. Whole on the surface they live a savage existence, the differing natures and points of view of them are put across and lead to interesting combinations of actions taken during raids and fights for survival. There are hints to their past lives and what made them who they are which are revealed sparingly at moments where they are impactful revelations.

This book deals with some very dark subject matter, unsavoury characters and bloody and brutal violence and while it could be a depressing slog to read, due to the way itís written, the characters and the way the world they are in is conveyed, there are elements of intrigue and adventure. Kidís own narrative, misadventures and life experiences carry the story as does the humour thrown in along the way. Itís dark humour and used appropriately.

Those the gang meet along the way are all distinctive in their own ways. For example, the Queen, desperate to be regal and doing her best with a dilapidated mansion and over-the-top fancy clothing who controls a main trading area and also who is known to Pretty Boy and Dolly. It is familiarisations like this which again add another depth to the story Ė that there is an established trading system which gives an idea of roughly how long ago the nuclear war that plunged the world into an apocalypse happened.

The narrative is also well-paced, clearly written and gives the reader enough to visualise what is happening in each scene. The fact that not everything goes right for the main protagonists also works well: it builds more of an element of suspense and at times amusement. Kidís own story and building up survival skills along the way and realisation of how much of her life has changed is also a mark of progress and adds a continual fresh aspect as the story takes its course.

If you are looking for a gritty story with a bit of a difference and that tackles unthinkable subject matter (again I refer to the cannibalism aspect) with the kind of dysfunctional anti heroes that make a change from the well-polished leading characters present in a number of different narratives, this one is worth a try. It made for an easy read given the authorís very digestible writing style and the sheer fact of not knowing what kind of trouble would be there on the horizon propelling the reader on. There are also some genuinely sad aspects in the book, moments of triumph and a dash of wondering how on Earth everyone will get out of their next scrape.

Definitely recommended.

Sue Griffiths


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