Short Take: Lord of the Flies in a basement.
This is one of those books that you read, and you get to the end, and then you just kind of go, “Huh”.
And you sit and let it percolate for a while, and you consider all the implications of the final chapter, and maybe reread it a bit, and again, you say “Huh”.
Not because it was a bad book. Not because the ending was completely ambiguous (although it did leave a lot of room for interpretation, with only a few hard facts emerging). There’s a definite shocker-twist ending, and a bit of open-endedness, but what’s really cool is that the one real true fact that emerges explains away a lot of the seeming impossibilities of the earlier chapters.
I’m not making a lot of sense, am I? It’s so hard to say what was good without giving away the big spoiler, and once I read that, my entire perception of the earlier chapters changed, and I’m stuck with… “Huh.” So, a quick overview.
Near the end of the school term in England, a group of six friends decides to pull off a wicked prank. They have found an abandoned bunker on campus, with electricity and running water, and even though the stairs have rotted away and the entrance hatch is twelve feet off the floor, they plan for five of them to hide out in the bunker for three days, with the sixth one (Martyn) letting them down via a rope ladder, and returning later to let them out.
Except that Martyn has no plans of letting them out. As the days drag on, and their food runs out, one of them will come up with a desperate plan to save them all.
The Hole is tense and claustrophobic, but doesn’t quite work on a few levels. For one thing, the book is VERY short. I read it in a few hours. As I’ve been told many times, it’s not the size that matters, but there was a frustrating lack of detail.
The five teenagers in the room are not very fleshed out as characters. We have Liz, the narrator, who is a smart bookish planner, Mike, who’s the athletic protector, Geoff, the smart-alec sidekick, Frankie, the complainer, and Alex, the damsel in distress. They are all two-dimensional.
We only see Martyn in the vaguest strokes. There are multiple allusions to other “pranks” he’d pulled in the past, that seemed funny at the time, but in retrospect, were actually pretty sadistic. The problem is, we don’t actually find out what any of those pranks were. We get one detailed description of one terrible thing he did to his girlfriend, but that’s it. And that thing happened after the others were already in the hole. So this guy is a psycho, and the kids in the hole should have seen it, but we have no idea what they are talking about when they say that. The reasons for that are later explained, but still. Frustrating.
So for about 90% of the book, we get some hints of things that happened, then in the epilogue, we get a few more hints, but very few actual answers. This is one of those rare cases, however, where the ambiguity kind of almost works. Not quite exactly, but almost. I feel like I see what the author was trying to do, and that he came within a few inches of pulling it off.
(I still think Laura Kasischke did it better, though.)
The Nerd’s Rating: Three Happy Neurons