"What if the story starts with the terrible and abstract nightmare event?"
Does the horror get worse from there?
Elizabeth Knox's Wake is a strange novel. It knows that horror can't be horror unless it has people in it and it succeeds in making you care about these people and whether or not they're scared or miserable or going insane. In this small New Zealand settlement, there were fourteen who survived the thing that happened, because they happened to be out of reach of - whatever it was.
Now no one can get out. They're trapped inside of a strange powered field no one understands. It won't allow anyone to go through. Birds who fly into it fall to the ground. The survivors are imprisoned in a small area, with the gory remains of the thing that happened. The thing that did something to all the people, before they died.
There are so many bodies to bury.
Does the outside world even know there are survivors here? Do they know what happened? Can they see anything through the mysterious field? Are they coming to the rescue?
We slowly learn more about each of the survivors, though they do not necessarily learn much about each other. They don't know, for example, if the travelling American lawyer is just coldly rational or, say, a sociopath. They don't know if the woman who takes charge of the kitchen has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or is just dealing with fear and nerves by counting and sorting things, again and again. They don't know Sam.
Even Sam doesn't know Sam.
I enjoyed this book, though it could probably have been a little faster-paced. The developing relationships and tensions between the survivors is beautifully written, and worth spending the time on - still, I got a bit impatient through the middle bit. Not enough to keep me from recommending the book to, say, someone interested in the immediate aftermath of a Lovecraftian monster event, or even someone looking for a horror novel set in an unusual place, like New Zealand. (There are kakapos!)
The antagonist of the book stays invisible and unknown for quite a long time. The reveal of the unknown enemy is often a bit of a letdown in this kind of story, but I like the way it's handled here - the realistic responses to basically crazy shit. It really works. (And then I asked myself, "wouldn't it be interesting to get another book about how these people cope after this, too?", and I realised I've already read Daryl Gregory's We are all completely fine, which actually does give people like these survivors a support group.)
And, hey. The cover for this edition of the book looks really cool. I thought nothing could compete with the other edition's cartoony brightness (I love cartoon-styled book covers and don't see enough of them), but this one fits.