Look. I was at YALC, ok? Publishers and authors were touting their books left right and centre, and little old me was standing there, at her first con, enthused but bewildered.
Plus, I really wanted a Gollancz tote bag.
What I’m saying is that when I picked up The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I did not put a great deal of thought into it. There was a bit of ‘ooh, lovely cover’ and ‘ooh, mysterious blurb’ and the deal was done. The book was in my bag. The Forest of Hands and Teeth was on my TBR pile.
And there it may have stayed forever, for glorious as my personal library is, it is also packed into a space far smaller than it deserves. The only reason I even HAVE a TBR shelf now is because my mum is clearing out her mum’s house, and I was inspired to do some stuff-shuffling of my own. Some of it even shuffled right out of the door and to the hospice shop sorting warehouse. (We love the hospice shop sorting warehouse. If you have stuff that you don’t want but isn’t tatty enough for the tip, get thee to your nearest hospice shop warehouse.)
SO. Mysterious book with intriguing title, check. Space to display the mysterious book, check. It was in my eyeline when I get up in the morning. All the necessary components had come together, and fate was ready to put them into action.
I picked up the book.
Before we go any further, I just want to share with you the blurb for this mysterious book with the intriguing title. I usually write my own, but you and I are going on a journey, and you need to have the same tools I started with.
In Mary’s world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?
WHERE DOES IT SAY ZOMBIES?? Spoilers: the Unconsecrated are the zombies. Which is clear NOW. If I put any real thought into this blurb at all, I thought there was something creepy, sure, in the Forest of Hands and Teeth. I didn’t for one second suspect that the Forest was ACTUAL UNDEAD HANDS and ACTUAL UNDEAD TEETH?? I figured there was some weird isolated sect with some weird superstitions and monsters, and that was as far as I got before I was reading about the zombies crashing against the fence, hungering for people.
But here’s the thing. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if it had said ‘zombies’ anywhere on the outside. I’ve read zombies. I’ve watched zombies. The only future zombie apocalypse I was anticipating was when The Girl With All the Gifts comes out in the cinema. And only because the book is the best zombie story I have ever read. And even then, I’ll probably wait until the DVD comes out because I do not want to see ten foot high zombies eating ten foot high people, thanking you.
So, as far as I was concerned, the zombie apocalypse had been and gone. There was nothing else to say. But the thing about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the truly brilliant thing, is that it is a literary zombie novel.
Yep, you read correctly. Literary zombies. And I’m not talking weird spin-off, Jane Austen but with some flesh-eating in it. Solid literary, human condition writing. And zombies.
Like, how do you even think of that as a thing to do? It’s amazing! It’s inspired! It’s a refusal to bow to any kind of existing genre structure, and just doing what you want! I love it.
Sure, the heterosexuality borders on aggressive, and the village is frustratingly abstract in its construction (where does all the FOOD come from??), but this is an excellent novel. Without Mary’s passion and selfishness and self-conviction, this novel wouldn’t exist. There would be no exploration. There would be no alternative to the world in which, even though your dead relatives are literally gnawing through a fence so that they can get on with gnawing through you, guys can ask to marry girls but girls can’t ask the guys, so they have to rely on the right guy asking or risk a lifetime of entrapment or enforced nunning. Urgh. It BUGGED me.
But this is still an excellent novel, and it has sequels (be still my groaning TBR pile)! So it turns out that reading a book without any real knowledge of what’s inside is kinda fun!