Monday 24 June 2013

Wool by Hugh Howey - My Review

Setting the world alight right now is this dystopian masterwork by indie turned international literary star Hugh Howey. Just like grunge and Brit pop, I got interested at the tail end of things, getting around to reading it long after everyone else had finished it and moved on. Next up, Harry Potter.

Mucking about aside, this was a fine read. I don't really know the history of its publication beyond that it was originally an indie novella that went interstellar and spawned four more novellas to continue the story, putting Hugh Howey on the map and no doubt making him a fortune in the process. Apparently it's on Ridley Scott's desk. I'd probably fork out for a ticket to see it.

While it was separated into five sections, it felt like three stories to me. Part one, Holston, tells the story of a disillusioned sheriff a few hundred years into the future who lives in this vast subterranean silo with five thousand other people. His wife has been put to "cleaning", meaning she committed a crime and was sent outside into the toxic air in a kind of space suit to slowly die. Like everyone else sent to cleaning before her, his wife wiped clean the little video cameras that show a view of the outside world. She said she wasn't going to, but she did. Holston wants to know why.

I thought Part One was really good. Holston was an interesting character and the slow mystery of his surroundings was very intriguing.

Part Two, Proper Gauge, focused on his superior, Mayor Jahns, as she travelled into the "down deep", the area at the very bottom of the silo, to look for (highlight to see spoiler) a new sheriff. I didn't find this part nearly as interesting. It was basically a visual exploration of the silo through Jahns' eyes. Not a lot happened until the last couple of chapters.

Parts Three, Four and Five felt like the main story. They concerned Juliette, the new sheriff, who was quickly put to cleaning for a vague crime to stop her getting too deep into the secrets of the silo and the world outside. Juliette, however, manages to break the chain of all the cleaners before her and (spoiler) survives.

The rest of the book centres around what happens to Juliette outside while inside the silo two rival factions clash.

Essentially Wool is a mystery story, as a group of characters try to discover the truth about their world and the secrets that have been hidden from them. It gets really good once Juliette gets outside, and we begin to discover what's going on. There were lots of little reveals to keep you interested and it was expertly done.

There were a few things that bothered me a little. I found the naivety of some of the characters trapped inside the silo to be a little far-fetched during the uprising. They just kind of walked into battle without any real plan. Also, of a silo full of thousands of people, only a few seemed to be involved.

There were one or two other plot holes, not least when Lukas received a strange radio transmission which appeared to have nothing to do with what was actually going on with Juliette, and the ending was way too upbeat. It fitted with the story but it felt a little off compared to the dark tone of the rest of the story.

Juliette was an excellent character and her story would make a good movie. Holston and Jahns were pretty much forgotten about by the end, and I think in any kind of adapation you could keep Holston in one of those little prologue segments while dropping Jahns altogether and getting to the meat of the story.

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot and would probably read the sequel. It was well written throughout and Howey had some really nice turns of phrase, particularly early on in the book. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes dystopian fiction.

Chris Ward
24th June 2013

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